The Pi-Rate Ratings

April 2, 2021

PiRate Ratings Final Four Preview

National Semifinals Spreads

FavoriteUnderdogSpread
GonzagaUCLA14.7
BaylorHouston1.4

PiRate Bracketnomics

Nearly three weeks ago, we excitedly released our 2021 Bracketnomics report believing we were on top of the NCAA Tournament and knowing which teams were the true contenders and which were the pretenders. We came up with our Final Four teams, and poof, two of them lost before the Sweet 16.

We gave you a list of Gonzaga, Illinois, and Michigan, qualifying Michigan based on whether Isaiah Livers could return and play after the Sweet 16, which he was unable to do. Next, we gave you a list of teams that had a strong resume that should contend for the Final 4, of which Houston was one of those teams. Finally, we gave you the list of the handful of teams that had Final 4-worthy resumes but not as strong as the half-dozen just above. In that group was Baylor.

Three of the remaining four teams meet the PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics criteria to win a national championship. As for UCLA, they are an outlier with very little national championship statistical criteria. Even though we selected a couple of wrong championship-worthy teams, three of the four Final Four teams meet the Bracketnomics criteria we endorse. If Gonzaga, Houston, or Baylor win the title, then the Bracketnomics fundamentals will have proven valid for the season. Let’s look at the Semifinal Games and show you the Bracketnomics Criteria in total.

Efficiency Ratings

93% of all national champions since 1990 have finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and in the top 20 in defensive efficiency.

Offensive Efficiency Ratings

Baylor3
Gonzaga1
Houston7
UCLA13

Baylor, Gonzaga, and Houston qualify here. UCLA is just outside the criteria range.

Defensive Efficiency Ratings

Baylor28
Gonzaga5
Houston8
UCLA45

Gonzaga and Houston qualify here. Baylor semi-qualifies, because the 6.7% of the teams that won the national title that didn’t meet the defensive efficiency criterion (two times in 30 years), their defensive efficiency was in the top 40. UCLA once again does not qualify here. Because efficiency is the most important criterion, UCLA is not a Bracketnomics’ qualifier. If the Bruins win the title, they crush this system.

Strength of Schedule

All national champions in the last 30+ years have had a strength of schedule better than 5 points per game above average, or to clarify it, a score of 55.0 or better in our PiRate formula.

Final 4 SOS

Baylor59.3
Gonzaga59.2
Houston56.9
UCLA61.4

All four teams qualify with this criterion. The belief that Gonzaga did not play a hard enough schedule is 100% hogwash. Gonzaga defeated Virgina, Iowa, and West Virginia in addition to three wins over BYU. Wins over USC, Creighton, and Oklahoma by 17.7 points per game totally destroys the theory that the Bulldogs are not as strong as the best Power Conference teams.

PiRate R + T Ratings

If this is your first look at our site, the R+T rating is our creation. It measures a team’s ability and likelihood of enjoying a scoring run. Usually, NCAA Tournament games are decided when one team goes on a scoring run to secure the victory or to come from behind to win. This rating looks at the reasons why a team gets that spurt in a game. It happens with extra rebounding, steals, avoiding steals on offense, and turnovers. Because steals are more valuable than all other turnovers, they get their own piece in the formula.

R + T Rating = R + (.5S) + (6 – Opp. S) + T where R = Rebound Margin, S = Steals, and T = Turnover Margin

Historically, national champions are in the top quadrant in R+T ratings. In most years, the top quadrant begins around 12.5 to 15. In this Covid basketball season, the top quadrant line is 11.8 and the top 10% is 14.5.

Final 4 R+T

Baylor14.2
Gonzaga14.7
Houston18.3
UCLA8.3

Once again, Baylor, Gonzaga, and Houston qualify with this criterion, while UCLA does not. Houston’s R+T is typical of a team that puts a game away quickly when they get a spurt, but when you factor tougher schedules for Baylor and Gonzaga, the top three are basically equal, while UCLA is still not qualified.

Upperclassman Leadership

In 90% of the past 30 years, the national champion had multple upperclassmen (juniors & seniors) among their top eight players. When the game is on the line, an experienced 22-year old player is an adult that can handle pressure. An 18-year old freshman is still a teenager.

Final 4 Leaders

TeamSRJR
Baylor24
Gonzaga22
Houston32
UCLA04

All four teams have experienced leadership. UCLA has no seniors, and the loss of their one senior early in the season may be the only reason why the Bruins didn’t get to this point with a 26-4 record rather than 22-9. Houston having three seniors may have a unique advantage this year, since nobody received NCAA Tournament experience last year.

The Clutch Factor

There are going to be possessions in the Big Dance where a team must rely on a player or players to put the load on their shoulders and pick up the crucial basket, rebound, or defensive stop. Think of Reggie Jackson in October. All Final Four teams have had a Mr. March on their roster. Even surprise teams like Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason in this century have had at least one Mr. March on their roster. It must be close to impossible to get this far without that guy or guys. So, this factor is obvious for all four teams remaining.

Baylor3
Gonzaga3
Houston1
UCLA1

Baylor and Gonzaga have three Mr. March’s (Mr. April’s) on their roster. It is harder to stop three than it is one, but if the one’s are more like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or MJ, then the one’s can trump the threes. Unfortunately for Houston and UCLA, Baylor and Gonzaga’s three go-to guys are the players closest to the superstars. Here is where we begin to really separate the superior teams from the really good teams.

Three-point Percentage

This is one of two areas where we at the PiRate Ratings were late in endorsing. The reason for this is that prior to about 2015, college basketball teams were not up to snuff on analytics. Once mathematics became a large part of basketball strategy, the game experienced an evolution to where most teams now attempt to shoot the highest percentage two-point shots along with open three-point shots. All that matters is finding a 60% probable two-point shot and a 40% probable three-point shot. If a team can hit 37% from behind the arc, they must hit better than 55.5% from inside the arc to make two-point shooting worthwhile, and the same goes for holding the opponent below those numbers.

The key in this criterion is to have a team three-point percentage of 37.0 or better. Going 3 for 8 is just as acceptable as going 15 for 40. It’s the percentage that matters.

Final 4 3-pt%

Baylor41.1
Gonzaga37.1
Houston35.4
UCLA36.9

Baylor and Gonzaga shoot better than 37% from the 3-point line. UCLA is one made basket away from qualifying and thus would round up to 37%. Houston does not meet the criterion. In a game with Baylor, where the Bears are able to prevent the Cougars from getting multiple second chances, this could be a decider. Read on though to see the other side of this equation.

Dominant Insider Player(s)

Now that we told you the importance of 3-point shooting, now we switch and tell you it is also important to have a dominant inside player or players. A team doesn’t have to have Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Patrick Ewing inside these days to have a dominant inside game. All we are looking for is one player that can score in the low post and averages better than 12 points per game or two front court players that average better than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Final 4 Inside Dominance

Team1 @ 122 @ 20/12
BaylorNoNo
GonzagaYesYes
HoustonNoNo
UCLANoNo

This is the most glaring stat of the entire system. Gonzaga has a post player that averages more than 12 points per game, and the Bulldogs have two front court players that combine for better than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. The other three teams do not have a player that meets this criterion. It makes the Bulldogs prohibitive favorites, because this stat goes hand-in-hand with R+T and the prevention of R+T.

In past years, when a team of smaller players won the national championship, while they may not have had a 6 foot 10 inch monster in the middle, they did have a 6 foot 5 leaper that could score points inside and clean the boards with rebounds. The tiny 1964 UCLA Bruins with no starter over 6 foot 5 still dominated inside with three players that combined for 32.1 points and 17.8 rebounds per game. That tiny Bruin team outrebounded their opponents by more than 8 per game!

True Shooting Percentage Margin

True Shooting percentage is a new age metric that assigns point values to shot attempts. A free throw, a 2-point basket, and a 3-point basket obviously count for different values, so the ability to score points on a possession can be weighted. In essence, this is just another way to look at offensive and defensive efficiency, but it removes the schedule strength factor. Because all the Final 4 teams have adequate schedule strengths, this criterion may show a more accurate estimate. A double digit margin is a sign of a great team. A margin of 5.0-9.9% is really good.

Final 4 TS% Margins

TeamTS%OppMargin
Baylor58.552.06.5
Gonzaga63.449.813.6
Houston54.447.17.3
UCLA54.752.91.8

You see the obvious here. Gonzaga is far and away the superior team in this quartet. UCLA looks like a team that should have gone home by the Sweet 16. Baylor and Houston are extremely close.

Double Figure Scoring

In addition to having clutch players, it is great to have at least three players that average 10 or more points per game, preferably four players. A team with one or two big scorers is more likely to have an issue with both having “off nights” than a team with three double-figure scorers. A team with four double-figure scorers is unlikely to see all four players have an off night.

Final 4 DBL FIG

Baylor3
Gonzaga4
Houston3
UCLA4

Gonzaga and UCLA have the big four number, while Baylor and Houston have three. All four qualify here. Ironically, had UCLA’s senior star not been injured in game number eight, they would have had five double figure scorers and might have been as powerful as their 1995 national champions.

Offensive Rebounding Rate

Offensive rebounding is the key to having a superior R+T rating, and in the Final four, where all four teams have excellent team defenses, quite often the best offensive rebounding team gets that game-clinching spurt. ORR must also be used in conjunction with schedule strength.

Simply, ORR is the percentage of offensive rebounds a team gets off its missed shots. If a team misses 35 shots (FG and FT with a rebound) and gets 14 offensive rebounds, their ORR is 40.0 (14/35).

In the past, the key number has been 37.5% or three offensive rebounds for every eight missed shots. A team that could hit that mark frequently had an R+T north of 18. In recent years with more three-point shots and a prevalence of Pack-Line defenses, that number has been lowered to 35%. Any team that can retrieve 35% of its missed shots with a schedule strength in the top quadrant is going to be a tough out.

Final 4 ORR

Baylor36.1
Gonzaga30.4
Houston39.5
UCLA29.4

This is where Houston shines, and where the Cougars have their opening to upset Baylor. The issue is that Baylor has the next best ORR. Can Houston get enough offensive rebounds to account for their sub-standard three-point shooting? The probability is less than 50%.

Offensive rebounding is the closest vulnerability Gonzaga has. It is the only reason why at the beginning of March Madness that we had them as the second best overall criteria. However, UCLA has an ORR under 30.0, and that number is not indicative of a Final 4 team. If Gonzaga plays in the title game Monday night, their opponent will have one aspect of the game where they can exploit the Bulldogs’ lack of superiority. We won’t call it a weakness, because it is still better than average.

Two-point Percentage Defense

Two-point percentage is still highly important in the Big Dance. Teams still take 2/3 of their shot attempts inside the arc. The important number here is 45%. If a team holds their opponents under 45% from inside the arc, they are dangerous on the defensive side.

Final 4 2pt D

Baylor48.6
Gonzaga46.5
Houston42.8
UCLA49.4

Now you see why we pegged Houston as a potential Final 4 team before the tournament commenced. Holding opponents to 42.8% from inside the arc, while also having a superior rebounding team has allowed the Cougars to make it this far. Baylor and UCLA just barely hold teams under 50% from inside the arc. Gonzaga is in the gray area between very good and great.

Free Throw Rate

We admit that we failed to fully grasp the importance of this metric until last year. For years, we talked about how every national champion for a long stretch in history had free throw percentages under 70%, basically in the bottom 50% in their season. The teams with the highest FT% didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament, or they made quick exits. There was a reason for this. If these teams needed a high percentage to win, they seldom could use this against superior athletes that maybe didn’t shoot as well from the charity stripe.

We threw the baby out with the bath water! How naive we were for so many years. We even altered our idea of FT Rate, going with a different formula from the norm. Originally, FT Rate was simply FT attempts divided by FG attempts. Some heavy hitters in the basketball metrics world altered this to FT made divided by FG attempts. We endorsed an Ivy League math professor’s peer-reviewed thesis that showed FT divided by possessions was more valuable than the alternatives but still considerably less important that field goal accuracy, rebounding rates, and turnover rates.

Then, like a light bulb exploding above our heads, we began to rationalize why players foul and why they do not foul. Most of the fouls in college basketball happen because the offensive player is too talented for the defensive player to guard. Instead of giving up the easy basket, the defensive player will make contact with the offensive player, hoping the referees fail to notice.

The FT rate is thus very important, but FT% isn’t the reason. It tells us which team is hardest to guard and which defense is superior and does not need to foul to stop easy baskets. Thus, the original FTA/FGA is in fact the important equation to use here. Look for a team that has an offensive FT rate over 31% and a defensive FT rate under 31%. The farther away from 31%, the better.

Final 4 FT Rate

TeamO-RateD-Rate
Baylor26.731.0
Gonzaga35.625.3
Houston30.441.0
UCLA31.428.0

Once again, Gonzaga is clearly the best at these criteria. UCLA has ridden these criteria to five wins in the Dance. Baylor is vulnerable here with substandard stats on both sides of the ball. Houston has a major issue on the defensive side, where they obviously foul way too much. If the Cougars get in early foul trouble in the first half against Baylor, it will be curtains. Baylor doesn’t force fouls, so UH might be okay for one night.

A Head Coach With Past Final Four Experience

If a coach has past Final Four experience, his team usually comes out ready to play without the “tightness” many teams have at the beginning of games. These coaches are better equipped to handle all the extra intangibles that Final Four basketball brings. Obviously, all Final 4 coaches have winning Elite 8 experience, but the regional finals and national semifinals are world’s apart.

Final 4 Coaching

BaylorNo
GonzagaYes
HoustonYes
UCLANo

Kelvin Sampson made one Final Four with Oklahoma 19 years ago. He has the experience. Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to the national finals, where the Bulldogs lost by two. Neither Mick Cronin nor Scott Drew have been here before. Gonzaga and Houston get the gold in this criterion.

Conference Champions

Very rarely has the national champion not won either its regular season conference championship, or its conference tournament championship. It isn’t 100% indicative, but it is a strong factor.

Final 4 Champions

BaylorYes
GonzagaYes
HoustonYes
UCLANo

UCLA is the odd team out again. Baylor won the Big 12 Conference title. Houston won the American Athletic Conference Tournament after finishing second in the conference race. Gonzaga swept both the West Coast Conference regular season and conference tournament titles. UCLA won neither the Pac-12 regular season nor conference tournament titles.

Scoring Margin

This is the oldest metric that holds up throughout college basketball history. Better than 90% of all national champions have had scoring margins of 10.0 points or better. Lower that to 8.0 points or better, and you approach 100%. A large majority of national champions had scoring margins above 12 points, and a sizable number had better than 15-point margins.

Final 4 Scoring Margins

Baylor17.5
Gonzaga23.1
Houston19.0
UCLA5.3

Three teams satisfy this criterion. UCLA would be on par with David slewing two Goliaths to win the title. There isn’t any past basis to predict the Bruins defeating Gonzaga and the Baylor-Houston winner.

Field Goal Percentage Margin

We almost dismissed this criterion. It is old-hat, and there are newer metrics that rate this ability better. However, this stat still holds up from the 1930’s through today. Historically, the national champion has averaged better than 7.5% superiority in field goal percentage margin. The past net-cutters have frequently topped 10% in this statistic. Only the margin matters, so this can be 52% offense to 42% defense or 47% offense and 37% for defense or any other 10% margin.

Final 4 FG% Margin

Baylor5.4
Gonzaga13.3
Houston6.4
UCLA2.3

As you can see, Gonzaga is the only one of the four teams that meet this criterion. 13.3% is similar to the other undefeated national championship teams. The 1967, 1972, and 1973 UCLA teams that went 30-0 plus the 1976 32-0 Indiana team averaged 11.3% in FG% margin. Gonzaga’s 13.3 is higher than all four of these past greats.

Winning Streak(s)

A team must win six consecutive games (seven if playing in the First Four) to win the national championship. If the team couldn’t win six or seven games in a row during the regular season, you cannot expect them to do so in the Big Dance.

There are two key data points with this criterion. They are one 10-game winning streak or two six-game winning streaks.

Final 4 Winning Streaks

Baylor18
Gonzaga30
Houston11/8/7
UCLA7

Gonzaga’s 30-0 record easily qualifies the Bulldogs here. Baylor’s 18-game winning streak safely qualifies them. Houston has three winning streaks greater than 6 games, which also satisfies this criterion’s parameters. UCLA has one winning streak of 7 games, which came in 2020 with their former senior star playing. The Bruins do not qualify.

Summation

The most obvious information herein is that UCLA made it this far as one of the greatest outliers in tournament history. They barely survived their First Four play-in game with Michigan St. Their overtime win over Alabama was gifted by a terrible officiating mistake in regulation. Their Elite 8 win over Michigan was extremely lucky when Michigan had multiple opportunities to win in the last 30 seconds but basically crumbled under pressure. Using this criteria, Gonzaga should beat the Bruins by 15 or more points.

The Baylor-Houston game is not as cut and dry. Most pundits believe BU is unbeatable in this game, but we beg to differ. Houston is the underdog in this game, but Baylor is maybe a 55% to 45% favorite at best. Both the Bears and Cougars possess the criteria to make it to the National Championship Game.

If you are a Gonzaga fan, you might want to cheer for Baylor to win their semifinal game. While the Bears have an incredible criteria resume, Houston dominates in the one area where Gonzaga is vulnerable.

The 1927 New York Yankees are considered the best baseball team of all time by a majority of baseball experts. Yet ,that team had some weaknesses. Third baseman Jumpin’ Joe Dugan was a below average player at his position. Mark Koenig was an average shortstop. The three-man catching platoon was good but not great. However, that team had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, two of the top 10 players of all time. It had Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, and Bob Meusel, three additional stars that in other years could have been the best player on a pennant-winning team. The pitching staff didn’t get the accolades, but they were the best in the Major Leagues in 1927. The Pinstripes went 110-44 to win the AL Pennant and swept Pittsburgh in the World Series 4 games to none. That Pittsburgh team (actually Pittsburg in those days) was loaded with talent, including Big Poison and Little Poison in Paul and Lloyd Waner, in addition to Pie Traynor, Kiki Cuyler, and three other hitters that had batting averages over .300.

The legendary sportswriters of the 1920’s noticed the Pirates players watching the Yankees take batting practice before the series began. Ruth sent towering home run shots over the very deep Forbes Field right-center field and center field walls well over 400 feet flights. Then, Gehrig stepped into the batter’s box and sent hard-hit balls that were not as high but looked like ropes going over those same spots in the deep wall. The Pirate players were in awe, but that was just two players.

Lazzeri, Meusel, and catcher Pat Collins then got into the batter’s box in succession batting from the right side. Each of the trio then sent balls rifling over the distant left-field wall, again over 400 feet blasts. The Pirate pitchers were mortified and totally psyched out. The Series was over before it started.

Is this Gonzaga team the 1927 Yankees on the college hardwoods? With all the games being played in the Indianapolis area, Baylor, Houston, and UCLA have had ample time to see Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, and Jalen Suggs appear to be Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri. They have seen Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard look like Combs and Meusel.

It is our opinion that Gonzaga is more like the great UCLA national Champions than the 1991 UNLV, 1979 Indiana State, and 1976 Rutgers teams, the last three to make it to the Final four undefeated and not win the title. The hidden intimidation factor is worth 12 to 15 points in GU’s favor. Opponents will be fearful of giving up too many easy transition baskets to really crash their offensive boards, where GU can be exploited. They are likely to hurry their shots and shoot below their norms. Because the other teams in this tournament cannot properly match up with Timme and Kispert, we expect the inside defenders to experience foul trouble.

After Citation won the Triple Crown in horse racing in 1948, 25 years passed until the feat was replicated. Great horses like Northern Dancer and Majestic Prince couldn’t pull it off. When it finally happened again, the horse that did it was the 1927 Yankees of thoroughbred racing. Secretariat forced other trainers to alter how they ran their horses, and it still didn’t work. In the Belmont, Sham tried to run fast early to keep up with Secretariat, and Sham wore out. The greatest horse of the time period ran away with a 31-length victory totally obliterating the record time by multiple seconds!

Is Gonzaga about to become the Secretariat of this generation? The Bracketnomics criteria believe so.

March 29, 2021

PiRate Ratings Elite 8 Spreads

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 10:38 am
FavoriteUnderdogSpread
HoustonOregon St.9.0
BaylorArkansas5.1
GonzagaUSC9.3
MichiganUCLA6.4

PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics Update

Houston, Baylor, Gonzaga, and Michigan are the four remaining teams that possess the analytics criteria that 93% of the last 30 national champions possessed. Gonzaga and Michigan have the overall best criteria, but most of Michigan’s statistical outcomes includes injured star Isaiah Livers. Houston lacks overall schedule strength, but a win tonight over Oregon State and then a Final Four win over Baylor would give the Cougars the last needed piece of the puzzle in a national title game. Baylor misses on only one main criteria point as well as a couple minor points.

Obviously, the Pac-12 strength of schedules needed to be tweeked upward by a few points, and the Covid issues probably disguised the league’s resurrection. The Big Ten and Big 12 were overrated this year, while the SEC and ACC were somewhat overrated. The fact that the Elite 8 has three Pac-12 teams, and one team each from the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, West Coast, and American Athletic speaks a lot about the balance in basketball this year. The Western half of the country was the better half this year for the first time in more than a decade, maybe in the 21st Century.

March 26, 2021

PiRate Ratings Sweet 16 Spreads

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 5:13 am

Friday, March 26, 2021

FavoriteUnderdogSpread
Loyola (Chi.)Oregon St.6.5
BaylorVillanova5.2
ArkansasOral Roberts13.3
HoustonSyracuse7.0
GonzagaCreighton13.3
MichiganFlorida St.3.4
AlabamaUCLA5.7
USCOregon3.4

Bracketnomics Took A Beating

Like 99% of the public, our brackets are destroyed thanks to all the lower seeded teams winning in the first two rounds. Obviously, the Big Ten was highly overrated, and the Pac-12 was highly underrated. A lack of non-conference games this year made the schedule strengths too biased. There are only four teams in the Sweet 16 with resumes similar to past national champions.

Gonzaga is the only remaining team that meets 90% of the criteria of a national champion. Michigan would also meet the criteria, but their star playmaker is still injured and out. So, the Wolverines have to be discounted somewhat.

Baylor and Houston meet more than 75% of the criteria, but they are missing one key important stat. Connecticut is the only past national champion of the 21st Century to win the national title with this type of criteria.

If Gonzaga wins the title, then the bracketnomics data will have proven itself to be accurate for the year, even if our interpretation of the data was wrong. If Michigan, Houston, or Baylor wins the title, then it will be another Connecticut type of deal, where the criteria was valid but not identifiable enough to be considered a success. If anybody else cuts the nets, then the criteria failed for this year.

What should we make of this data this year? Do we throw this year out due to the highly dysfunctional season? So many games were cancelled this year, while other games were scheduled on as little as 48-72 hours notice. Included in the cancellations was a Gonzaga vs. Baylor game that should have been played, in all places, in Indianapolis in December!

One thing we will note in 2021-2022 is to consider the Big Ten Conference to be a tad overrated and the Pac-12 Conference a tad underrated. Maybe, it is time for “The Conference of Champions” to return to its prominence it enjoyed in the second half of the 20th Century.

What to Make of Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s strength of schedule just barely qualifies for national championship-worthy criteria. However, no team from outside the Power Conferences (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, or SEC) has won the national championship since 1990, when UNLV cut down the nets. In three decades, Gonzaga came within a made basket, and Butler came within a rimmed out prayer of pulling off the Mid-Major miracle.

Gonzaga has been compared all season to the 1991 UNLV team that ran the table during the regular season with a scoring margin of close to 30 points, only to fall to Duke in the Final Four.

Could Gonzaga meet a power conference blue blood and meet the same fate as UNLV 30 years ago? Creighton would not be considered a blue blood, and we cannot see the Bulldogs losing Saturday. A win in the Sweet 16 would have GU playing a Pac-12 team in the Elite 8, either USC or Oregon. We cannot count either of these teams as a Duke-like blue blood.

In the National Semifinals, Gonzaga would face either Michigan, Florida State, UCLA, or Alabama. With Isaiah Livers able to play, Michigan would definitely be considered blue blood material. Florida State is in the blue blood neighborhood. UCLA and Alabama are both a little too green to be blue these days.

The Championship Game would present a potential opponent in Baylor that would be a true blue blood team this year. Syracuse might be a powder blue blood with their matchup zone so hard to prepare for when teams have not faced it before.

However, we here on the PiRate ship do not see Gonzaga as the UNLV team three decades later. We see this Bulldogs team more like the 1964 UCLA Bruins 57 years later. By this, we do not refer to playing style. The two teams couldn’t be any more different. Coach John Wooden’s first national champions were small in size; no starter was taller than 6 foot 5 inches. Gonzaga has size and muscle inside.

The 1964 Bruins used a devastating 2-2-1, 3/4 court zone press and occasionally a 1-2-1-1 full court zone press to force tempo and turnovers, while Gonzaga uses a standard half-court defense that relies on pressuring the ball and forcing poor shots, where they can control the boards and run the fast break and secondary break for cheap baskets and then hit the offensive glass for additional chances.

Where the two teams are quite similar is their method for winning games. In going 30-0 in 1964, UCLA put every game away with a 2 to 3 minute scoring run. The best example occurred in the national title game, where a favored Duke team, with two 6 foot 10 inch starters towering over the Bruins, fell under pressure in just 2 1/2 minutes, as the Bruins ran off 16 points in a row.

Gonzaga has this same ability to take a three-point lead and make it a 15-point lead in just a couple minutes of playing time. Their game against BYU in the West Coast Conference Championship Game is a testament to this ability. BYU held a 10-point lead and looked like they were going to do what Saint Mary’s had done in the prior WCC Championship Game. Then, in very little clock time, GU went from 10 down to 10 up, and the game was over.

There is another team remaining with the same ability to go on a major game-clinching scoring run, and that is Houston. Funny how comparing Gonzaga to UCLA brings Houston into the conversation, as Houston and UCLA conjure up memories of past titanic rivals like Dempsey-Tunney, Affirmed-Alydar, and New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Houston is most definitely not considered the favorite to make it to the National Championship Game. They still have to solve the Syracuse zone and then possibly beat the most underrated team in the field in Loyola of Chicago or the team that found lightning in a bottle in Oregon State. Then, they most likely have to dismiss Baylor to make it to their third national championship game in the school’s history.

A Houston-Gonzaga national championship tilt would be quite memorable, and it would be one where both teams enjoy scoring runs that make the outcome unpredictable.

March 16, 2021

2021 Bracketnomics Report

For many of you, this is the only time of the year you visit the PiRate Ratings, as March Madness is your real holiday season.  If this is your first visit here, please be advised that we actively participate in rating college and NFL football as well as college basketball.  And, if you are a fan of tabletop baseball games, our Sabertooth Baseball Game is available for the low price of $7 while it is still on sale, when it will go back to $8.  If you have the dice and the playing surface, we send you all the cards, charts, and rules in a zip file for you to print.  Serious gamers tell us that they think our game is one of the most advanced strategic baseball games on the market with unique playing styles.  If we piqued your interest, check us out at https://sabertooth-baseball.square.site , or our blog at https://sabertoothbaseball.wordpress.com 

Now that we’ve heard from our sponsor, let’s get right to it.  First, what are Bracketnomics?  That’s our term we coined to describe how we use analytical data that has been backtested to try to determine which teams have the best set of statistical fingerprints when compared to national champions of the past.

The tutorial is quite easy to read, and if you haven’t read it, you can check it out here:  https://piratings.wordpress.com/2021/03/12/the-all-encompassing-master-bracketnomics-paradigm-2021/

If you have already read this or just want to go straight to picking your bracket, then here’s what you have been waiting for.

First, let’s start with a few bracket-picking strategies. It is obvious that picking a perfect bracket is about as likely as winning the Powerball and Megamillion lotteries in the same week where lightning strikes your air conditioner compressor and you find a four-leaf clover when you go outside to see why your A/C isn’t working.

It is, however, possible to win whatever bracket-picking contest you enter. We here have received dozens of comments through the years from readers telling us they won their office pools, and we have also heard from people that won pools from supermarket contests, radio station contests, and even one from a woman that won $1,000 from a modified Calcutta contest.

There are a few general keys to scoring high enough to win your bracket pool. First, you need to start by picking your national champion, Final Four, and Elite 8 in that order. Do not start with the opening round and just predict the winners. You will likely eliminate yourself before the Sweet 16 by picking a bunch of upset winners and arrive at the Sweet 16 with less than a half-dozen teams still alive.

Next, once you have your Elite 8, go into each sub-bracket that those 8 teams emerged and pick the best team that would give the Elite 8 team a tough Sweet 16 game. Now, you have your Sweet 16.

At this point, you need to pick most of the rest of the games by “the chalk.” Obviously, your Sweet 16 will have to win in the Rounds of 64 and 32. You can then maybe pick a couple upset winners in the first round and maybe one or two of your Sweet 16 teams will be a dark horse. However, as we see it, the teams considered dark horses really looked like the favorites in our method of picking games. In the past, we were all in on a George Mason team that ambushed the field to the Final Four. We said that Virginia Commonwealth was better than 20 seeds and did not deserve to be in the First Four, and the Rams went to the Final Four. We had Wichita State as a Final Four possible the year they went to the Final Four. And, we showed that Butler had a lot of the needed criteria to get deep into their tournaments. It isn’t fail-safe; we did not see Loyola making the Final Four, and we twice struck out with Connecticut teams that won their championships.

Our criteria relies on the percentages and uses past events to predict future possibilities. Math is not perfect in this respect. Think of it this way: Would you rather have Ty Cobb at bat with runners on second and third base and two outs in the last of the ninth, trailing by one run, or would you rather have Mario Mendoza at bat? The odds greatly favor the best hitter of all time, but there are some instances where Cobb might make an out on a hard line drive, while Mendoza delivers the game-winning hit on a bloop pop fly that finds grass between the infielder and outfielder. We’ll still go with Cobb, and that’s what our Bracketnomics attempt to be–the Ty Cobb of bracket-picking.

A lot of gurus will tell you how the #12 seed is the best upset spot, and they point to how many times the #12 seed has upset the #5 seed. Why does this happen? It is because the #12 seeds are often the best automatic qualifiers from mid-major conferences, and the Selection Committee did a poor job placing these teams this low. It is not a jinx, so don’t automatically advance a 12-seed unless you can see they were placed in the wrong seed line.

The same thing can be said about the 11-seeds. In recent years, the Committee was a little more accurate placing powerful mid-major champions one seed higher than past years. A lot of these former superior 12-seeds are now superior 11-seeds. And, instead of playing 5-seeds, they are playing weaker 6-seeds. The plan stays the same–look at the criteria and let the criteria show you when the lower seeds are superior and actually the better team, meaning it won’t really be an upset at all.

The Best Criteria

As we looked at all the data, three teams emerged from the pack of 68 that have national championship looking criteria stats.  However, one of the teams is missing a key ingredient and will have to be discounted some for the loss of a key player.e

The overall best resumes belong to two #1 seeds, Gonzaga and Illinois.  The third team that has the look of a national champion is Michigan, but the Wolverines fall out of this category if Isaiah Livers cannot return by the Sweet 16 and play at somewhat close to 100% efficiency.

There is another group of teams that fall just short of national champion appearance.  These teams are below the championship line in one basic criterion or multiple smaller criteria.  These teams in alphabetical order are: Colorado, Houston, Texas, and Virginia.  We expect that maybe one of these four will sneak into the Final Four.

The next group back, the teams that are just behind the above group and have solid Sweet 16 appearance criteria with possible Elite 8 criteria are: Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Saint Bonaventure, San Diego St., USC, and Wisconsin.  We expect at least one of these six to make the Elite 8.

Then, there is a group of teams with considerable positive criteria along with a major negative criterion. These teams are also Sweet 16 worthy, and two could advance to the Elite 8 with one even sneaking into the Final Four. These teams may benefit from ideal brackets more than criteria, as you read the previews.

This year’s criteria was hard to calculate because of the lack of non-conference games.  Schedule strength had to be stressed even more than usual, or else we would have Colgate picked to go to the Final 4.  The Raiders are 14-1, and all of their games were against fellow Patriot League members; additionally, Colgate never played the other quality team in the league in Navy.

There was a slight issue with Gonzaga’s strength of schedule.  The Bulldogs’ total SOS was brought down due to the bottom teams in their conference.  However, they have wins over Iowa and West Virginia out of conference, and that allows us to accept Gonzaga’s schedule strength as the minimum needed to be considered for the national championship, and adequate for the Final Four.  They were supposed to play Baylor, but the Bears opted out of that game due to the virus.

Now, we will review each of the Round of 64 games using our criteria to pick the winner.  Note that we will have regular PiRate Rating spreads for these games on the day of the games.  Our PiRate Ratings are not used when picking winners in Bracketnomics.

First Four

If you are picking brackets, you can usually wait until these games have been played before picking your brackets.  The 16-seed winners will not really matter, as none of them stand a chance to knock off a 1-seed this year.  The 11-seed games will be important, so if you can, wait until those games have been played before submitting your brackets wherever you do.

16 Texas Southern vs. 16 Mount St. Mary’s: Mount St. Mary’s defense will keep Texas Southern from getting a lot of good looks, and the Mount doesn’t foul a lot, so TSU will have a hard time scoring.  MSM’s R+T is a tad better too.

Prediction: Mount St. Mary’s

11 Drake vs. 11 Wichita St.: This should be a close game, as both teams have strengths that can be used to exploit the other team’s weaknesses.  Drake is clearly the better offensive team, while Wichita State has a smaller advantage on defense but considerable advantage on schedule strength.  Drake’s R+T rating is quite better, good enough that they might enjoy the game-clinching spurt in this one.

Prediction: Drake

16 Appalachian St. vs. 16 Norfolk St.: These are two teams that will be fighting tooth and nail for their chance to shine for one night, and this looks like a close one.  To select a winner here, we basically have to go with the team with fewer negatives.  Both are ripe with negatives, but in the end, Norfolk St. has the capability of speeding up the tempo and getting Appy State players in foul trouble.

Prediction: Norfolk St.

11 Michigan St. vs. 11 UCLA:  This is a Michigan State squad lacking its typical inside dominance, while UCLA has very little inside game.  So, it’s more likely that this game will be decided on the perimeter.  UCLA is clearly superior from behind the arc, and Michigan State’s biggest issue this year has been with perimeter players that can take the three or drive quickly to the key.

Prediction: UCLA

SOUTH REGIONAL

1 Baylor vs. 16 Hartford: There’s nothing at all that shows us that Hartford has a chance in this game.  Baylor is superior across the board, so forget this being a UMBC-Virginia moment.  Baylor should lead by more than 30 when Scott Drew removes his starters.

Prediction: Baylor

8 North Carolina vs. 9 Wisconsin: Normally, we would find some fact or statistic to show the Tar Heels being superior to an opening round opponent, but this time, we cannot rationalize doing so.  Both teams are about equal defensively in preventing good shots by their opponents.  Wisconsin is clearly more efficient on offense.  Wisconsin is one of the most experienced teams in the field with six seniors among their top eight players, while UNC is one of the greenest with just one senior and one junior among their top eight.  Carolina has the power advantage in this game, but the Badgers will limit possessions, and they have the outside shooting advantage.  Carolina’s only hope is to get the pace up to more than 70 possessions per side, but we think the veteran Badger team will control the pace and have the advantage.

Prediction: Wisconsin

5 Villanova vs. 12 Winthrop: This is one of those momentum games by a lot of pundits.  They believe that with Villanova’s multiple injuries, this will be another #12 seed upset.  Are they correct?  Let’s take a look.

First, we have to discount Villanova due to their missing senior guard Collin Gillespie.  Additionally, guard Justin Moore will still be somewhat below par due to his severe ankle sprain.  Add to that fact that Winthrop has one of the most unique point forwards in the nation in Chandler Vaudrin.  Now, let’s look at the data.  Villanova enjoys an enormous inside advantage in this game, and their schedule strength is in a different time zone compared to Winthrop’s.  Wins over Southern Conference contenders UNC-Greensboro and Furman were nice, but they were 0-0 against power conference teams.  We expect VU’s two inside forces to get their share of points and force Winthrop to bring an extra defender into the paint, where ‘Nova’s third and fourth options on the perimeter should be good enough to knock down a few.

Prediction: Villanova

4 Purdue vs. 13 North Texas: This game could be close, for a half.  North Texas has the ability to stay within single digits for most of the day, but in the end, Purdue has a wide advantage in both schedule strength and R+T.  That almost always leads to a team going on a big run to put a game away.

Prediction: Purdue

6 Texas Tech vs. 11 Utah St.: Texas Tech is noted for their tough defense, but guess what?  Utah State’s defense is even better this year.  Utah State also has a supreme inside game and isn’t too shabby on the perimeter.  Texas Tech has issues scoring on offense, and we expect the Red Raiders will have foul trouble inside the paint.  Here is our first lower seed upset pick.

Prediction: Utah St.

3 Arkansas vs. 14 Colgate:  Here is where schedule strength is as important as class is in handicap horse races.  Arkansas is a Grade I champion, while Colgate is still eligible for non-winner’s of two allowance races.  The schedule strength favors Arkansas by more than a dozen points before looking at any other stats.  Arkansas’s offense is not superior, but it is very good.  Their defense is close to superior.  Colgate’s offense is good, but in the end, their defense isn’t going to slow down the Razorbacks enough times to keep this game close.  There are no criteria that show us that Colgate has a chance to find something to exploit in this game.  Add to the load our personal belief that Eric Musselman is one of the A++ basketball coaches, and this looks like a double-digit win.

Prediction: Arkansas

7 Florida vs. 10 Virginia Tech:  This game looks more like an 8-9 game than a 7-10 game, because it is close to dead even when looking at all the criteria.  Florida has a slight advantage with offensive and defensive efficiency and schedule strength, but VT rates better in R+T, which can override small schedule strength advantages.  Additionally, both schools have swooned in recent weeks, so what we are looking at here is who will be fodder in the next round?  We honestly say to pick the team you like in this one, because it is a 50-50 matchup.  When it’s 50-50, we look at the coaches.  Michael White has an Elite 8 appearance at Florida.  Mike Young had an incredible Wofford team in the Dance that beat Seton Hall and took Kentucky to the buzzer in the Round of 32.  

Prediction: Virginia Tech

2 Ohio St. vs. 15 Oral Roberts: Oral Roberts is the only one of the 68 teams in this field with a negative R+T rating.  Our prime rule is to immediately eliminate any NCAA Tournament team with a negative R+T rating.  There are no exceptions to this rule, so even if ORU was playing one of the 16-seeds in this round, we would be selecting the opponent.  As Royal Rooter King Michael McGreevy would have replied, “‘Nuf ced.”

Prediction: Ohio St. has the potential to win by 35 points.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

1 Illinois vs. 16 Drexel: You know the answer here, so let’s break down the Illini a little to show you why they have the criteria of a national champion.

National champions come from power conferences–ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East, Pac-12, and Big Ten.  The last team not in one of these leagues to win the title was UNLV in 1990.

National champions tend to have double digit scoring margins.  Since 1990, 28 of 30 national champions had double-digit scoring margins.  The other two times, it was Connecticut both years.  Illinois’s scoring margin is 12.2 in a year where the Big Ten was the top-ranked overall league.

National champions tend to have offenses ranked in the top 10 in efficiency and defenses ranked in the top 20 in efficiency.  Illinois is 7th offensively and 5th defensively.

National champions tend to have four or more upperclassmen on their top eight.  Illinois has two seniors and three juniors in their top eight.

Add to this a team with a +37% 3-point accuracy; two inside players that combine for more than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game; an offense that forces defenses to foul too much; a defense that does not foul too much; a top-10 schedule strength, and one of the few 20+ R+T Ratings in this tournament.  

10 out of the last 13 years, a #1 seed won the national title, and Illinois is a #1 seed playing just one state away from home.  Other than having a coach that has not been past the Round of 32, and a slightly under the championship norm offensive rebounding rate, this team looks like past national champions.

Prediction: Illinois by whatever spread they want to name.

8 Loyola (Chi.) vs. 9 Georgia Tech: Oh, this one should be a grand one to watch!  Not only is it an evenly-matched game, it is evenly matched with both teams having decided advantages over the other in various criteria.  That usually leads to an exciting 40 minutes with lots of plot twists.  In other words, plan on watching this game.  Let’s break this one down.  Georgia Tech has the definite offensive efficiency advantage, but Loyola has the number one defensive efficiency in the entire nation!  Loyola is one of a very few teams to have a double-digit true shooting percentage margin.  The Rambler TS% is 59.8% and they allow 48.7%.  

Georgia Tech has three players that can put away an opponent, while Loyola is more of a team approach type of winner.  In the clutch, go with a team with three potential dagger-makers.  Georgia Tech has a slightly stronger schedule, but Loyola has superior R+T numbers, and for that reason, the scales slightly tip past balanced.

Prediction: Loyola (Chi.)

5 Tennessee vs. 12 Oregon St.: We expect the winner of this game to have a tough time advancing to the Sweet 16 for multiple reasons.  Tennessee is one of the most Jekyll and Hyde teams in the field, if not the most.  An excellent defensive effort will give the Vols a big win, and then an egg-laying offensive effort will get them beat the next game.  The problem is that the players seem to lack direction against changing defenses.

Oregon St. was a model of excellent consistency for 120 minutes at the Pac-12 Tournament, holding the pace to less than 65 possessions per game, and winning by making very few mistakes.  By mistakes, we don’t refer to turnovers, but more to smart shot selection and excellent team defense.  That team defense thing is kryptonite to Tennessee.

The question is which Vols team shows up?  Will it be the team that disposed of Kansas like they were a division 2 team, or will it be the team that acted like it didn’t know the object of the game in the second half of the SEC Tournament semifinals?  We’ll say that for one game, UT will play up to their potential.

Prediction: Tennessee

4 Oklahoma St. vs. 13 Liberty: Liberty was a real victim of Covid-19 in 2020.  The Flames were good enough to make the Sweet 16 last year.  This year’s team is not on that same level of competence.  The biggest factor in this game is the humongous schedule strength advantage the Cowboys have.  On that alone, OSU is 18 points better before the opening tip.  They also have the top clutch player in the Dance in Cade Cunningham, who is better than Kemba Walker, who took Connecticut to the national title when the Huskies did not have national title criteria.

Prediction: Oklahoma St.

6 San Diego St. vs. 11 Syracuse: Syracuse has been in this situation before where they were on the Bubble getting into the field and then won a game or two.  They made the Final Four as a 10-seed.  Their matchup zone defense can be trouble for teams that have not seen it live, and most teams that play the ‘Cuse in the Rounds of 64 and 32 have not seen another team use it.  That can make a difference in closely-matched teams.

San Diego State’s man-to-man defense is not something Syracuse has seen either.  It is nothing like Virginia’s or other ACC defenses.  In a normal year, Duke’s defense might look something like that, but the Orangemen will be just as unsure attacking the Aztecs as SDSU is attacking the zone.  Syracuse has a stronger schedule strength, but not that much stronger, while SDSU has the better R+T Rating, enough to make the difference.

Prediction: San Diego St.

3 West Virginia vs. 14 Morehead St.: In recent years, Belmont and Murray St. have pulled off big upsets from the Ohio Valley Conference.  Ten years ago, this team knocked off Louisville in the opening round.  Can lightning strike twice?  About as often as it does, so don’t expect the Eagles to soar over the Mountaineers.  The schedule strength advantage is considerable at 13+ points.  The inside advantage will be almost as strong, and WVU will get many extra opportunities to score in this game.  Unless Morehead shoots lights out from three, this will be a mismatch.

Prediction: West Virginia

7 Clemson vs. 10 Rutgers:   These are very similar teams when looking at their criteria.  There isn’t much to separate them.  Rutgers has a slightly better offensive efficiency rating.  They are basically equal defensively.  Clemson has the better frontcourt and more likely to get more first chance points in the paint.  Neither team is adequate enough to get to the Sweet 16 with their R+T Ratings.  In the end, we go with the better offense in this one.

Prediction: Rutgers

2 Houston vs. 15 Cleveland St.: This is the best Houston team since Phi Slama Jama made it to consecutive national title games in 1983 and 1984.  Two years ago, a #3-seed Houston team easily advanced to the Sweet 16 and then took Kentucky to the final horn.  This team is a tad better overall, but more importantly, this regional is lacking in teams that excel where Houston is vulnerable.  Houston could win this game by 30-35 points, but Kelvin Sampson will probably empty his bench earlier than normal, allowing Cleveland State to make the final score look less embarrassing.  Only if CSU can get three or four Cougar players in early foul trouble can they keep this one close.

Prediction: Houston

West Regional

1 Gonzaga vs. 16 Norfolk St.: Rather than show you how Gonzaga could win this game by 40 or more, let’s show you their criteria so you can compare it to Illinois.  

A.  National champions come from power conferences–ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East, Pac-12, and Big Ten.  The last team not in one of these leagues to win the title was UNLV in 1990.  Gonzaga would have to break a 31-year trend.

B.  National champions tend to have double digit scoring margins.  Since 1990, 28 of 30 national champions had double-digit scoring margins.  The other two times, it was Connecticut both years.  Gonzaga’s scoring margin is 23.0, which is far and away the best in the nation.  UNLV’s was 15 when they won the 1990 title.

C.  National champions tend to have offenses ranked in the top 10 in efficiency and defenses ranked in the top 20 in efficiency.  Gonzaga is number one on offense and number 10 on defense, a definite look of a national champion.

D.  National champions tend to have four or more upperclassmen on their top eight.  Gonzaga has two seniors and two juniors in their top eight.

E.  Gonzaga’s 3-point percentage is 36.5%, which is a fraction under the 37% floor most champions have had.  They have three players that can be counted on to win a game on the final possession.  They have two inside stars that can dominate a game in the paint.  While the Bulldogs’ schedule is a tad weaker than a typical national champion schedule, they did beat Iowa and West Virginia on the road, and a cancelled game against Baylor would have given them a championship worthy schedule.

Prediction: Gonzaga by a very large margin

8 Oklahoma vs. 9 Missouri: These former Big 8/Big 12 rivals used to have some great conference games, and this one should be a lot like those great ones from the past.  Oklahoma has the better offensive efficiency, while defensive efficiency is about equal.  Missouri has the advantage inside and a slightly better strength of schedule.  There isn’t much difference when looking at the rest, but Missouri is one of the few teams that has a +37% free throw rate; however, their defensive FT rate is too high.

Prediction: Oklahoma

5 Creighton vs. 12 UCSB: On the surface, this looks like a potential double-digit win for the higher seed, even when considering the high number of 12-seed upsets in the past.  Crieghton’s offensive efficiency rating is high enough to consider the Blue Jays an Elite 8 contender, and their defensive efficiency rating is strong enough to move Creighton into the next round.  However, there has been an issue with the head coach, and Creighton did not look like the same team after the dissension between players and coach came to a head.  

UCSB is not an easy mark.  The Gauchos have an inside presence typical of a first round winner.  They are a senior-laden squad, and their R+T rating is almost 20, which is another sign of a potential upset winner in the Round of 64.  When a team has a huge R+T rating advantage over their opponent, the next thing to compare are the two schedule strengths.  In this case, Creighton has a modestly better SOS, not enough to overcome a large R+T disadvantage. Remember that UC-Irvine from the same Big West Conference beat a 4-seed in the 2019 Dance.

Prediction: UCSB gets the upset

4 Virginia vs. 13 Ohio U: Ohio has a top 40 offense, but their defense is too weak to stop an ACC team like Virginia.  This will be more of a half-court game, where the fast break is an afterthought.  Virginia will win more than half of the possessions, probably something like 55% of them, and in a 62 possession game for both teams, that comes out to 68 possessions for the Cavs and 56 possessions for the Bobcats.  A 12-possession win with about 1.1 points per possession means a 13-point win.

Prediction: Virginia

6 USC vs. 11 Drake: This game could be a faster-paced replica of the UVa-Ohio game.  USC and Drake both have very strong offensive efficiency ratings, but Drake’s defensive efficiency is below the threshold of a winning tournament team.  USC will dominate inside in this game, and Drake will have to hit close to half their three-point shots to keep this one close.  USC has one of the highest foul-drawing offenses, and the Trojans should get a lot of “and 1’s” in this game.

Prediction: USC

3 Kansas vs, 14 Eastern Washington: This Kansas team does not have the overall offense to advance to the Final Four, and they may struggle making the Sweet 16.  KU’s offensive efficiency is vulnerable against a quality defensive team.  Eastern Washington is not that team with a porous defense compared to this field.  Superior schedule strength and a somewhat better R+T makes this game a solid one in the Big 12 team’s favor.

Prediction: Kansas

7 Oregon vs. 10 VCU: This should be an interesting game.  Oregon’s exceptional offensive efficiency faces VCU’s exceptional defensive efficiency.  The schedule strength is dead even, so we look at the R+T ratings, and it favors the Ducks by one scoring spurt.

Prediction: Oregon

2 Iowa vs. 15 Grand Canyon: Iowa is oh so close to having Final Four criteria.  Their offense trails only Gonzaga, but their defensive efficiency is #50, just outside the threshold for national champion qualification.  Grand Canyon actually holds a substantial R+T Rating advantage, so we must look at the schedule strength to see if it can be sustained.  It cannot in this case, as Iowa’s schedule is almost 15 points stronger per game.

Prediction: Iowa

EAST REGIONAL

1 Michigan vs. 16 Mount St. Mary’s:  Even at less than full strength, Michigan is much too strong for a Northeast Conference opponent.  The Wolverines’ have top 10 offense and defense efficiency ratings, while the Mount has the lowest offensive efficiency in the tournament.  Their defensive efficiency is the ninth lowest in the field.  If the Wolverines can get through this first weekend, there is a chance that Isaiah Livers can return and contribute.

Prediction: Michigan

8 LSU vs. 9 Saint Bonaventure:  LSU has a top five offensive efficiency rating, but their defense is below par for any more than a win or two at best.  St. Bonaventure could be a surprise winner, and they could give Michigan a run for their money in a Round of 32 game if they can get past LSU.

This game should stay close like an 8-9 game should, and it is almost a 50-50 guess when applying our criteria.  LSU’s schedule strength is slightly stronger, but The Bonnies have a clear R+T advantage.

Prediction: Saint Bonaventure

5 Colorado vs. 12 Georgetown: It was the worst of times early in the year at 5-10 and the best of times late in the year at 8-2 for the Georgetown Hoyas.  If GU is going to continue to play like they did in the latter part of the schedule, their overall criteria must be looked at in a different light.  The trouble here for Patrick Ewing is the opponent in this game.  Colorado is very close to being considered an Elite 8 dark horse.  The Buffs have an offensive efficiency rating in the top 20, and their defensive efficiency rating is in the top 30.  CU also has the R+T Ratings advantage.

Prediction: Colorado

4 Florida St. vs. 13 UNC-Greensboro: Florida State is another team just shy of the typical criteria of a Final Four team.  The Seminoles are a worthy Sweet 16 team with an offensive efficiency rating in the top 10.  Their defensive efficiency rating is in the top 50, which is just outside of Final 4 worthy. The Seminoles could beat a Michigan team without Livers.

UNCG would be totally outmanned in this game if it wasn’t for a very good R+T rating, and even though FSU’s schedule strength is better, it is not enough to make this game a slam dunk runaway win.  UNCG could keep this close for more minutes than the Seminoles like.

Prediction: Florida St.

6 BYU vs. 11 UCLA: A lot of national talk show hosts and guests believe BYU was given a higher seed than they deserved.  Some people believe that they should have been a 9, 10, or even an 11 seed.  We don’t share that opinion.  BYU actually has the stronger schedule strength, as they have played the number one team three times and won at Utah State and San Diego State.  BYU has the better R+T Rating in this game as well, and the Cougars are substantially better defensively than the Bruins.

Prediction: BYU

3 Texas vs. 14 Abilene Christian: Abilene Christian will be playing for more than a spot in the Round of 32.  Beating Texas would be as special as Texas making the Final Four.  However, this Longhorns squad is tough, tough enough to become Shaka Smart’s second Final Four team, even though it would require one big upset and maybe one minor upset.

Texas has an offensive efficiency rating just outside the top 20 and a defensive efficiency rating in the 30’s.  With a schedule strength that is 16 points stronger than ACU’s, the slight R+T Rating advantage of the Wildcats is nullified.

Prediction: Texas

7 Connecticut vs. 10 Maryland: As hot as Georgetown was at the end of the season, they did lose twice to Connecticut.  The Huskies are another team with efficiency ratings and schedule strength strong enough to be considered a dark horse for advancing to the Sweet 16 and possibly the Elite 8.

Maryland will not be an automatic win for UConn.  In fact, this game is barely past toss-up.  UConn’s offensive efficiency is 24 and their defensive efficiency is 25, but Maryland’s offensive efficiency is just a little lower at 42 with a defensive efficiency almost exactly the same as the Huskies.  Connecticut’s biggest advantage in this game is the R+T Rating, which is slightly offset by Maryland’s somewhat stronger schedule strength.

Prediction: Connecticut

2 Alabama vs. 15 Iona: Can Rick Pitino work his magic and pull of a major upset?  Don’t bet on it.  His Iona Gaels have the sixth weakest offensive efficiency rating and eighth weakest defensive efficiency rating in the tournament.  Meanwhile, Alabama has more than enough superior criteria numbers to win this game with ease, even if their three-point shots don’t fall.  Iona will have a tough time scoring points in this game.

Prediction: Alabama

Those are our Round of 64 picks.  Now, we will finish it up by picking the rest of the bracket using Bracketnomics.

Round of 32

Baylor over Wisconsin

Purdue over Villanova

Arkansas over Utah St.

Ohio St. over Virginia Tech

Illinois over Loyola (Chi.)

Oklahoma St. over Tennessee

West Virginia over San Diego St.

Houston over Rutgers

Gonzaga over Oklahoma

Virginia over UCSB

USC over Kansas

Iowa over Oregon

Michigan over Saint Bonaventure

Florida St. over Colorado

Texas over BYU

Alabama over Connecticut

Sweet 16

Baylor over Purdue

Ohio St. over Arkansas

Illinois over Oklahoma St.

Houston over West Virginia

Gonzaga over Virginia

Iowa over USC

Michigan over Florida St. (if Livers returns)

Texas over Alabama

Elite 8

Ohio St. over Baylor

Illinois over Houston

Gonzaga over Iowa

Texas over Michigan

National Semifinals

Illinois over Ohio St.

Gonzaga over Texas

National Championship

Illinois over Gonzaga *

Note: If Gonzaga defeats Oklahoma, Virginia, and Iowa to get to the Final 4, their Strength of Schedule will then be above the minimum threshold needed to win all the marbles.

Here is a look at each team’s criteria. Maybe you can see something we didn’t see!

Criteria A: The Biggies

TeamO-EffD-EffSOSR + T
Abilene Christian1573044.115.8
Alabama34261.07.3
Appalachian St.22720547.75.2
Arkansas351458.814.2
Baylor34458.218.2
BYU282659.014.1
Clemson992060.64.3
Cleveland St.19912148.93.7
Colgate4314047.716.2
Colorado172958.014.5
Connecticut242558.714.8
Creighton144058.44.5
Drake1912050.716.9
Drexel9524747.19.3
E. Washington8615247.95.0
Florida403760.04.3
Florida St.104859.011.3
Georgetown854161.07.5
Georgia Tech275258.82.8
Gonzaga11057.822.0
Grand Canyon1427446.921.2
Hartford25412745.20.7
Houston81655.527.0
Illinois7562.820.8
Iona21016145.412.1
Iowa25061.411.6
Kansas59661.311.9
Liberty5216844.312.6
Loyola (Chi)49153.016.2
LSU512560.76.1
Maryland422761.82.3
Michigan6761.815.0
Michigan St.983261.35.9
Missouri515861.53.5
Morehead St.2147248.77.5
Mount St. Mary’s28713646.214.8
Norfolk St.20421943.48.0
North Carolina531560.421.5
North Texas1194253.89.2
Ohio St.47958.48.7
Ohio U2917457.58.4
Oklahoma365359.46.2
Oklahoma St.542262.06.1
Oral Roberts7428548.5-2.3
Oregon167657.19.2
Oregon St.6511757.96.0
Purdue232361.614.2
Rutgers751862.22.5
San Diego St.441155.917.3
St. Bonaventure381756.814.1
Syracuse228958.74.2
Tennessee71458.910.7
Texas213661.210.4
Texas Southern23623643.313.9
Texas Tech332459.713.2
UCLA268654.312.5
UCSB668253.419.2
UNCG1296750.815.0
USC301958.716.9
Utah St.112854.623.7
VCU1171257.45.1
Villanova96859.211.2
Virginia123358.98.5
Virginia Tech555456.58.8
West Virginia116562.111.4
Wichita St.5610356.62.3
Winthrop1207045.324.0
Wisconsin321361.74.1

Glossary:

O-Eff: Offensive efficiency ranking. Almost all national champions were top 20 and most top 10

D-Eff: Defensive efficiency ranking. Almost all national champions were top 20 and all top 50

SOS: The PiRate Ratings Strength of Schedule. All past national champions were higher than 56.0, and most were 60.0 and higher. Usually, one Final Four team has an SOS between 50 and 56.

R+T Rating: The PiRate Ratings estimate of “spurtability.” The higher the number, the more likely a team will enjoy the better scoring spurt. However, this rating goes hand-in-hand with SOS, so it must be handicapped on a per game basis while comparing schedule strengths. All national champions have had R+T ratings above 12.0, and most were over 15.0. A team with an R+T rating above 15.0 and SOS above 60.0 is tournament tough. If in turn, this team has a top 10 O-Eff and top 20 D-Eff, they are going to advance very far into the Dance. Teams with R+T ratings under 5.00 are in trouble after the first round.

Criteria B

TeamSeniors 8Juniors 81/3 Clutch?37+ 3ptF/C 12+ ppg2 F/C 20/12?
Abilene Christian23035.3YesNo
Alabama41137.8NoNo
Appalachian St.22331.7NoNo
Arkansas32133.9YesNo
Baylor24341.8NoNo
BYU32137.8NoNo
Clemson32034.6YesNo
Cleveland St.33131.9NoNo
Colgate32340.2NoNo
Colorado52136.7NoNo
Connecticut23133.6NoNo
Creighton32137.0NoNo
Drake43037.0NoNo
Drexel22137.2YesYes
E. Washington23135.4YesYes
Florida05135.7YesNo
Florida St.24139.0YesYes
Georgetown31136.6YesYes
Georgia Tech42334.9YesNo
Gonzaga22336.5YesYes
Grand Canyon50033.2YesYes
Hartford14032.7NoNo
Houston22136.1NoNo
Illinois23137.6YesYes
Iona30137.2NoNo
Iowa21138.6YesYes
Kansas22No34.4YesYes
Liberty23No39.1NoNo
Loyola (Chi)50No36.8YesNo
LSU04335.0YesYes
Maryland23034.6NoNo
Michigan51138.7YesYes
Michigan St.13032.0YesNo
Missouri42132.0YesYes
Morehead St.14No35.1YesYes
Mount St. Mary’s15133.7NoNo
Norfolk St.41136.8NoNo
North Carolina11No31.7YesYes
North Texas32137.6NoYes
Ohio St.24136.5YesYes
Ohio U13334.4YesYes
Oklahoma42133.8NoNo
Oklahoma St.11133.8NoNo
Oral Roberts22139.0YesYes
Oregon42139.4YesNo
Oregon St.32133.0NoNo
Purdue03130.7YesYes
Rutgers24131.1NoNo
San Diego St.52139.5YesNo
St. Bonaventure07037.5NoNo
Syracuse12333.7YesYes
Tennessee21133.8NoNo
Texas32136.2NoNo
Texas Southern35129.6NoYes
Texas Tech13134.6NoNo
UCLA14139.0NoNo
UCSB41333.7YesYes
UNCG24130.0NoNo
USC32134.6YesYes
Utah St.14133.6YesYes
VCU21132.9NoNo
Villanova23035.2YesYes
Virginia32138.1YesYes
Virginia Tech21134.5YesYes
West Virginia14138.7YesYes
Wichita St.23134.9NoNo
Winthrop24No35.3YesNo
Wisconsin60136.0YesNo

Glossary:

Seniors 8 & Juniors 8: These are the numbers of seniors and juniors in each teams’ top 8 players. Typically, the more experienced teams have the maturity to win close games in high leverage situations. Many times, these players have “been there” before. The best example of this is Georgetown’s Fred Brown. As a sophomore in the 1982 National Championship Game against North Carolina, the last possession of the game was too high leverage for an underclassman to handle. He made a serous unforced gaffe, and Carolina won. Two years later, the senior Brown was like a coach on the floor, as he helped the Hoyas win their lone national championship.

1/3 Clutch?: Successful tournament teams need an anchor that can pick up the tough points at crunch time or steal a pass on defense and key a spurt. If there isn’t one star, a team can get by with a trio of semi-clutch players. Either one is fine, so you want to see a “1” or “3” here and not a “0.” A team with a “0” doesn’t mean that they don’t have a player that can hit the last-second winning shot. Think of two pinch-hitters in baseball. Our clutch player is the PH that hits .300, and not .250 like the “0” clutch team PH.

37+ 3pt: In recent years with Four Factors’ data driving the way teams play, 3-point percentages have mattered more and more. It’s not the number of treys knocked down that matter; it’s the percentage that counts. If a team hits 37% or better from behind the arc, it forces defenses to stop them, and it opens up the middle. A 40% 3-point shooter is as effective as a 60% 2-point shooter.

F/C 12+ ppg / 2 F/C 20/12?: This can be an either or thing but if both criteria are met, it strengthens the deal. National championship and Final 4 teams can be perimeter-oriented, but they still need to have at least one inside player that scored 12 or more points per game, or two frontcourt players that combine for 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. The deeper the tournament progresses, the better the team defenses get. Teams that live by the jump shot and have no inside options tend to die by the jump shot before the Final 4. Teams that are dominant in the paint tend to be more consistent.

Criteria C

TeamTS MargDbl Fig#OReb%-45% vs. 2ptFT Rate 37DFT Rat <31
Abilene Christian55.2-49.5331.745.035.039.4
Alabama54.2-48.9431.546.428.631.9
Appalachian St.52.5-50.9429.948.134.324.3
Arkansas55.0-50.6431.746.932.729.4
Baylor59.3-52.1337.548.127.031.6
BYU58.2-49.7328.745.327.429.5
Clemson53.4-51.8126.647.523.629.5
Cleveland St.53.3-53.0330.950.832.037.1
Colgate59.6-48.4428.149.431.125.1
Colorado56.3-51.0330.846.429.928.0
Connecticut52.9-50.4336.645.629.636.9
Creighton57.0-49.9524.846.126.925.7
Drake57.3-51.54*31.648.224.428.6
Drexel57.6-53.0429.450.428.627.2
E. Washington57.4-50.2523.447.230.327.3
Florida56.2-51.3430.748.433.934.8
Florida St.57.5-51.1335.544.232.736.3
Georgetown53.3-50.7432.447.430.325.9
Georgia Tech56.6-54.9424.750.829.028.9
Gonzaga63.3-50.4430.446.836.625.9
Grand Canyon57.4-47.4332.244.132.228.5
Hartford53.3-50.0324.850.728.725.0
Houston55.2-46.7339.642.929.741.6
Illinois58.3-49.8333.045.439.230.4
Iona55.1-50.5333.445.836.146.4
Iowa57.3-50.5330.745.832.022.7
Kansas53.3-50.0431.345.530.626.4
Liberty60.9-49.6223.846.523.727.2
Loyola (Chi)59.8-48.7125.344.731.421.7
LSU56.4-51.7431.551.334.029.2
Maryland56.1-51.0320.645.833.625.9
Michigan58.2-48.4329.442.329.024.5
Michigan St.51.5-52.0130.448.231.437.1
Missouri54.3-52.4328.648.237.536.4
Morehead St.55.1-49.2324.447.336.023.1
Mount St. Mary’s51.5-49.4231.645.629.724.6
Norfolk St.53.9-51.4228.947.438.540.7
North Carolina51.6-51.4341.246.834.827.1
North Texas57.2-50.3428.345.327.431.4
Ohio St.57.3-52.4329.150.535.034.0
Ohio U58.1-54.7528.851.229.830.2
Oklahoma54.1-51.7327.346.329.222.8
Oklahoma St.55.5-50.6231.946.736.330.5
Oral Roberts58.2-52.1223.847.227.332.3
Oregon56.6-53.6528.350.026.827.1
Oregon St.53.9-53.8230.151.934.037.7
Purdue54.5-51.5232.249.732.230.4
Rutgers52.1-51.3327.447.427.633.2
San Diego St.56.2-50.2229.043.734.531.9
St. Bonaventure53.6-48.2533.645.127.928.3
Syracuse54.5-51.7330.249.228.325.0
Tennessee54.2-49.9331.444.835.131.2
Texas55.9-50.4331.345.834.036.7
Texas Southern52.6-49.5332.745.338.332.9
Texas Tech53.7-51.3333.644.839.236.5
UCLA55.2-53.9530.249.432.628.0
UCSB57.9-50.9329.446.034.227.1
UNCG50.6-52.0131.948.521.830.6
USC54.5-48.7235.642.237.524.7
Utah St.53.3-49.2335.742.930.125.7
VCU55.0-49.8228.645.934.035.4
Villanova56.3-54.0428.051.030.025.8
Virginia58.9-51.1323.146.122.024.5
Virginia Tech55.3-51.6228.447.633.230.9
West Virginia53.0-53.0435.551.328.319.8
Wichita St.51.4-49.0230.647.136.528.4
Winthrop56.3-51.9435.549.235.733.9
Wisconsin53.0-51.1223.747.127.028.5

Glossary:

TS Marg.: True shooting % margin. The numbers shown are the offensive TS% followed by the defensive TS%. This is a secondary criterion already factored in the efficiency numbers but can be used to look at when efficiency numbers are close to even. A good margin is 6% or more.

Dbl Fig #: The number of players averaging double figure scoring. If a team has four players that score 10-20 points per game, it is seldom that all four can be shut down in a game. If they have three players, they are still okay. Two or less usually indicates a bit of trouble to get to the Final 4.

-45% vs. 2: This criterion looks for teams that hold opponents under 45% on 2-point shots. While 3-point percentage is a key offensive stat, stopping two-point shots is the defensive key. Most national champions met this criterion, and almost every Final 4 team that did not meet this criterion lost if their opponent did meet it. It is still important in earlier rounds.

FT Rate 37 & DFT Rat <31: Making a lot of free throws is nice and can secure a small lead late in a game. However, there are two much more important foul stats. A team that gets to the foul line a lot prior to the final two minutes of games gets there because they have a superior offense that is hard to defend and thus is fouled more than average. Additionally, more fouls lead to foul trouble and automatic bench time for key players. Likewise, a team with a low defensive FT rate is a sign of a strong team defense. FT Rate 37 means a team with an offensive FT Rate (FTA/FGA) of 37.0 or better, while DFT Rat <31 means a team with a defensive FT rate under 31.0.

There is a caveat here: As the game becomes more and more of a three-point shooting game, fouling drops. That happened this year, as total fouls called has dropped. For this season, look at teams with 33.3% or better FT Rates and 28% or lower defensive FT Rates.

Criteria D

TeamChampionsCoach Exp.Score MargFG% DiffWin Strk
Abilene ChristianYes6417.16.08
AlabamaYes329.82.610
Appalachian St.Yes996.4-0.64
ArkansasNo1611.74.09
BaylorYes818.06.018
BYUNo9910.27.35
ClemsonNo163.30.95
Cleveland St.Yes990.92.99
ColgateYes6417.79.113
ColoradoNo329.73.56
ConnecticutNo327.92.95
CreightonNo328.77.06
DrakeNo9912.77.218
DrexelYes994.73.64
E. WashingtonYes998.65.39
FloridaNo84.24.34
Florida St.No88.67.65
GeorgetownYes990.70.94
Georgia TechYes325.51.58
GonzagaYes223.013.226
Grand CanyonYes6414.511.59
HartfordYes992.61.65
HoustonYes819.77.78
IllinoisYes3212.28.77
IonaYes16.34.66
IowaNo3211.95.56
KansasNo17.33.48
LibertyYes3215.38.212
Loyola (Chi)Yes416.09.811
LSUNo166.84.45
MarylandNo163.84.75
MichiganYes9910.98.911
Michigan St.No1-1.6-0.16
MissouriNo161.71.86
Morehead St.Yes995.45.712
Mount St. Mary’sYes991.42.14
Norfolk St.Yes996.03.26
North CarolinaNo16.32.03
North TexasYes998.66.64
Ohio St.No166.33.67
Ohio UYes997.64.56
OklahomaNo45.62.15
Oklahoma St.No994.25.56
Oral RobertsYes996.02.24
OregonYes47.03.78
Oregon St.Yes642.4-0.43
PurdueNo84.83.75
RutgersNo641.83.16
San Diego St.Yes6413.56.814
St. BonaventureYes6410.16.17
SyracuseNo15.12.63
TennesseeNo49.34.57
TexasYes46.44.16
Texas SouthernYes645.15.29
Texas TechNo29.63.34
UCLANo164.32.37
UCSBYes9913.76.513
UNCGYes647.21.07
USCNo169.77.37
Utah St.No6411.05.711
VCUNo646.54.67
VillanovaNo18.40.49
VirginiaYes18.16.47
Virginia TechNo326.63.34
West VirginiaNo45.2-1.44
Wichita St.Yes995.00.58
WinthropYes9912.73.016
WisconsinNo165.3-0.25

Glossary

Champions: This refers to a team that won either their regular season conference championship or their postseason conference tournament. Since 1990, 29 of 30 national champions met this criterion.

Coach Exp.: How far has the head coach advanced in the past? When looking at fairly evenly matched teams, a coach with more Dance experience can be the difference. A first-timer may make that crucial mistake that allows the opponent to have that brief scoring run.

Score Marg.: Something like 95% of all national champions had double digit scoring margins. This goes back to the very beginning of the tournament in the 1930s. 98% had scoring margins in excess of 7.5 points per game. Teams with scoring margins in excess of 15 points that come from a power conference are 100% legit powers, so keep that in mind. Mid-majors with 15+ point scoring margins have to be carefully scrutinized. If their power conference opponent played other mid-majors and did not win by an average as high as the Mid-major in the tournament, that means something.

FG% Diff: In the eight-decade history of the tournament, more Final 4 teams had FG% differences in excess of 7.5% than not and a great number had double-digit margins. If a team shot 48% from the field and gave up 38% from the field and played in a power conference, they are truly tough. A team with a double digit FG% difference that played a tough schedule can overcome a lower than average R+T rating, but usually they will run into a team with a superior R+T rating also with a tough SOS, and that’s the end for the lower R+T team.

Win Strk: Should we expect a team to win six straight tournament games if they did not win six straight regular season games? Most of the past champions actually had 10 or more game winning streaks or multiple streaks of 6 or more. Above, where you see numbers in bold, the teams had a second winning streak of 6 or more games in addition to the number shown.

March 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Bracketology

Preliminary to Final Prediction

The PiRates have been busy these last 12 hours rearranging the seed lines and replacing unfortunate at-large teams that were bumped twice yesterday, as Georgetown and Oregon State crashed the Dance party with impressive wins.

Five games remain to be played before the regular season comes to an end, and all five games could affect the final seed lines:

In the first game today, if Colgate beats Loyola of Maryland, the Raiders could move up one line, but the bigger possibility is the movement of more than a dozen seeds if Loyola pulls the upset. Colgate figures to be a 13 or 14 seed, but Loyola would be a 16 seed with a win. Colgate is somewhat of another issue, because the Raiders are a Top 10 team according to the NET Ratings, but they did so by facing no serious competition from top 100 teams. We believe the Committee will overrule their own criteria and send Colgate down the seed line.

In game two, St. Bonaventure faces VCU for the Atlantic 10 Championship. We believe both teams are locks to get into the Dance, but the winner and loser could be one seed apart. Or, the Committee might decide that this game doesn’t really matter and keep the two teams where they have them today. This is highly likely, and we are using that belief in our second to last seeding prediction. The Committee will be faced with an afternoon headache, where many teams will have to be shifted to accommodate a potential bid-thief. In fact, they will have two different brackets and keep one depending on what happens later in the day.

LSU and Alabama face off in what brings up memories of the Game of the Year in football, but this is the SEC Basketball Championship Game. Alabama has a sliver of hope to move to the 1-seed line with an impressive win and an Illinois loss in the Big Ten, but we believe they are probably locked in at the 2-seed line. However, should LSU pull off the upset, the Tigers might move up one line and knock somebody back a line.

The big mover and shaker game is the American Athletic Conference Championship Game this afternoon. Cincinnati could steal a bid away with an upset of Houston, and at the same time knock the Cougars down a spot in the seedings. If Houston wins, then everything is copacetic.

Because it will be the last game of the day, and both teams are rather secure in their destinies, we believe the Big Ten Conference Championship Game will be meaningless toward the final seedings. Illinois has done the work to earn a 1-seed, while Ohio State has worked their way back to a 2-seed. The Committee will not have time to alter their brackets at this point, so they will choose to ignore this game.

The important news then is who are the teams on the Bubble? Rather than announce 68 teams like in other years, the Committee will announce 72 teams, the regular 68 plus four alternates in case teams like Virginia and Kansas cannot field rosters for the tournament.

As we see it this morning, Drake is the last team in the field, currently an 11-seed looking at a First Four game against possibly UCLA. Should Cincinnati upset Houston today, the Bearcats would be looking at a 12 or 13-seed, and Drake would be dropped to the alternate pool, while Boise St. or Saint Louis would be dropped from the alternate pool to the NIT. Other teams just on the thin line include Utah State and Syracuse, two teams we show in the First Four, and Wichita State and Colorado State, two teams we show in the alternate list.

The First Four seedings moved from 12 to 11 last night when Georgetown and Oregon State kicked through the Dance hall door. The Hoyas and Beavers cannot be 11 seeds. We slotted them both on the 12-seed line, but we are not totally convinced yet that they will remain there. Doing a little research, the last time a power conference team with a similar record crashed the party like this, Georgia earned a 14-seed. Because teams like Colgate, Winthrop, UNCG, and UCSB are capable of moving up a line, there is a chance for chaos if Cincinnati wins today, because the Bearcats are not deserving of a 12-seed and maybe not even a 13-seed.

Here is how our field looks this morning with Cincinnati not in the Tournament.

Date3/14/2021Morning Edition
SeedTeamTeamTeamTeamTeamTeam
1GonzagaBaylorIllinoisMichigan
2Ohio St.AlabamaIowaHouston
3Oklahoma St.ArkansasKansasTexas
4West VirginiaPurdueFlorida St.Virginia
5TennesseeVillanovaCreightonUSC
6ColoradoTexas TechLSUMissouri
7BYUOklahomaOregonConnecticut
8ClemsonSan Diego St.WisconsinFlorida
9Virginia TechLoyola (Chi.)RutgersNorth Carolina
10Georgia TechSt. BonaventureMarylandVCU
11LouisvilleMichigan St.UCLASyracuseUtah St.Drake
12Oregon St.GeorgetownUCSBWinthrop
13Ohio ULibertyUNCGNorth Texas
14ColgateMorehead St.Abilene ChristianE. Washington
15Cleveland St.DrexelGrand CanyonIona
16Oral RobertsHartfordNorfolk St.Mount St. Mary’sTexas SouthernAppalachian St.

Four Alternates

69Wichita St.
70Colorado St.
71Saint Louis
72Boise St.

Note: We have already begun putting our

Bracketnomics Data into a spreadsheet, and we will

have it completed late tonight. We will then spend

Monday looking at the data and be ready to reveal

our opinions on the field on Tuesday. Look for our

annually most read post to publish

Tuesday afternoon, approximately 3 PM Eastern

Daylight Time, giving you plenty of time to read and

then fill out the brackets in your competitions.

March 13, 2021

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Spreads

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Team 1Team 2Spread
HartfordU Mass-Lowell3.4
Wichita St.Cincinnati3.9
HoustonMemphis6.4
Florida St.Georgia Tech3.7
Saint BonaventureVCU1.7
CreightonGeorgetown7.9
Eastern WashingtonMontana St.7.9
MichiganOhio St.4.0
IllinoisIowa0.2
TexasOklahoma St.1.1
UCSBUC-Irvine3.0
Western KentuckyNorth Texas-1.3
IonaFairfield7.4
BuffaloOhio3.5
Norfolk St.Morgan St.2.6
San Diego St.Utah St.2.3
ColoradoOregon St.9.1
ColgateLoyola (MD)12.2
AlabamaTennessee3.9
ArkansasLSU2.5
NichollsAbilene Christian-7.6
Prairie View A&MTexas Southern0.6
Grand CanyonNew Mexico St.1.7

Conference Tournaments Update

Saturday, March 13

Bids Awarded Today

America East: UMass-Lowell vs. Hartford

Atlantic 10: Saint Bonaventure vs/ VCU

Big East: Creighton vs. Georgetown (Hoyas would pop a bubble for the at-large field if they win)

Big Sky: Eastern Washington vs. Montana St.

Big 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma St.

Big West: UCSB vs. UC-Irvine

Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. North Texas

Metro Atlantic: Fairfield vs. Iona

Mid-American: Buffalo vs. Ohio U

Mideastern Athletic: Norfolk St. vs. Morgan St.

Mountain West: San Diego St. vs. Utah St.

Pac-12: Colorado vs. Oregon St. (Beavers win would pop a bubble in the at-large field)

Southland: Nicholls vs. Abilene Christian

Southwestern Athletic: Prairie View A&M vs. Texas Southern

Western Athletic: Grand Canyon vs. New Mexico St.

America East Conference

Championship Game– 11 AM EST, ESPN2

6 U Mass-Lowell at 4 Hartford

American Athletic Conference

Semifinals @ Fort Worth, TX

1 Wichita St. vs. 5 Cincinnati 

2 Houston vs. 3 Memphis 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Championship Game, 8:30 PM EST. ESPN

2 Florida St. vs. 4 Georgia Tech

Atlantic 10 Conference

Championship Game–Tomorrow, 1PM EDT, CBS @ Dayton, OH

1 Saint Bonaventure vs. 2 Virginia Commonwealth

Big East Conference

Championship Game, 6:30 PM EST FOX

2 Creighton vs. 8 Georgetown 

Big Sky Conference

Championship Game, 8 PM EST, ESPNU

2 Eastern Washington vs. 5 Montana St.

 

Big Ten Conference

Semfinals @ Indianapolis, IN

1 Michigan vs. 5 Ohio St.

2 Illinois vs. 3 Iowa 

Big 12 Conference

Championship Game, 6PM EST, ESPN

3 Texas vs. 5 Oklahoma St.

Big West Conference

Championship Game, 11:30 PM EST, ESPN2

1 UCSB vs. 2 UC-Irvine

Conference USA

Championship Game, 9PM EST, CBSSN

1E Western Kentucky vs. 3W North Texas

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Championship Game, 4 PM EST, ESPNU

7 Fairfield vs. 9 Iona

Mid-American Conference

Championship Game, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN2

2 Buffalo vs. 5 Ohio U

Mideastern Athletic Conference

Championship Game, 1PM EST, ESPN2

2N Norfolk St. vs. 3N Morgan St. 

Mountain West Conference

Championship Game, 6PM EST, CBS

1 San Diego St. vs. 2 Utah St.

Pac-12 Conference

Championship Game, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

3 Colorado vs. 5 Oregon St.

Patriot League

Championship Game, Tomorrow, 12 PM EDT, CBSSN

9 Loyola (MD) at 2 Colgate

Southeastern Conference

Semifinals @ Nashville, TN

1 Alabama vs. 4 Tennessee

2 Arkansas vs. 3 LSU 

Southland Conference

Championship Game, 9:30 PM EST, ESPN2

1 Nicholls vs.2 Abilene Christian 

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Championship Game, 6PM EST, ESPNU

1 Prairie View A&M vs. 3 Texas Southern 

Western Athletic Conference

Championship Game, 10PM, ESPNU

1 Grand Canyon vs. 3 New Mexico St.

Automatic Qualifiers

Liberty 23-5

Winthrop 23-1

Loyola (Chi.) 24-4

Morehead St. 23-7

UNC-Greensboro 21-8

Appalachian St. 17-11

Drexel 12-7

Cleveland St. 19-7

Mount St. Mary’s 12-10

Oral Roberts 16-10

Gonzaga 26-0

March 12, 2021

The All-Encompassing Master Bracketnomics Paradigm–2021

Hello PiRate Ratings fans.  We here never take for granted just how intelligent the typical reader of this site is.  The contributors to this site are all geriatric lovers of mathematics, basically statistics.  Personally, I (The Captain of the Ship) learned to love math at an early age by calculating the Earned Run Averages of Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Dean Chance, and Gary Peters at a time when they were trying to stay under 2.00.  When Bob Gibson had that miraculous 1968 season, I convinced my classmates to get into baseball just for the stats.  This love for statistics led to me becoming a sabermetric baseball analyst in my 50’s, where I worked for a Major League team for a few years.  Additionally, it led to my designing an advanced strategy baseball game called, “Sabertooth Baseball.”  If you are into tabletop baseball and want something more than a generic game that leaves out half of the strategies in real baseball, then check out our sister site, https://sabertoothbaseball.wordpress.com , where you can find a link to purchase the game online for the ridiculously low opening day sale of $7.  We send you a Zip file of player cards, charts, directions, ballparks, and even managerial strategies used by the team.  You print them out and use dice to play the game.  Other games might cost $75-100 to purchase a boxed game.  Printing the card yourself saves you more than $60, and you can keep the charts and rules open on a computer if you don’t want to print them.

Back to basketball and the real meat of today’s publication.  The PiRate Ratings have been isolating technical data and back-testing our theories as far back as there are statistics for college basketball.  Over the years, we have isolated certain data that serves as an NCAA Tournament team “fingerprint.”  We have noticed patterns where teams that made the Final 4 and won the championship shared similar stat profiles.  As basketball analytics came to be, we found new data that made the fingerprint much more accurate.  For several years, we enjoyed incredible success picking brackets, and many of our readers commented that they won their bracket contests.  Included in our selections were crazy things like picking George Mason to sneak into the Sweet 16, possibly make it to the Elite 8, and to actually be a dark horse to make the Final 4.  When they did exactly that, somebody at one of the top newspapers in the US the next year linked to us, and our site crashed for the only time in its existence.

In other years, we discovered negative data that told us that certain teams were early upset possibilities.  We mentioned more than once that Georgetown and Vanderbilt, two highly-seeded teams, were likely to lose in the opening games to lower-ranked teams, because of our now famous “R+T” rating.  The Hoyas and Commodores both had negative R+T ratings those years, and they both lost just like we predicted.  When the best R+T teams won the national championship three consecutive years, you noticed and began putting the pressure on us to replicate our success.

Alas, like a hot player at the horse track, our system began to falter.  It wasn’t the statistics that led to a swoon; it was the way the game was played.  Basketball analytics began to affect the game the same way that Money Ball affected baseball.  The Four Factors became the Weighted On Base Average of basketball.  And, then the NCAA changed the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.  That little five second change greatly altered the way basketball was played.  

Last year, we spent hour after hour re-tooling our system.  We didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we altered how the data would be used.  New back-testing showed that our new data might be as accurate of a predictor as the original data.  We were three days away from releasing the tutorial, when THUD, the season came to an end four days before Selection Sunday.

It looks like the Indiana Extravaganza will take place in 2021.  So, we can finally reveal to you our updated Bracketnomics for 2021.  After you read this, you have earned a PhD in Bracket-picking (or maybe in wasting time.)  Please enjoy this.  It is still experimental, so please do not use this information for potential financial investment purposes.  A free bracket-picking contest is okay.

Criteria #1: Offensive Efficiency, Defensive Efficiency, and True Shooting Percentage

This should be obvious.  The object of the game is to score points and prevent the other team from scoring points.  The way to score points is to put the ball in the basket, and the way to prevent points from being scored is to force the other team to not put the ball in the basket.  Because there is a way to score one point, two points, and three points, an overall all-encompassing percentage that includes points scored all three ways has been created.  It is called “True Shooting Percentage.”  Its formula is: (100 * Pts) / (2 * (FGA + (.475 * FTA)))

If a team scores 85 points and takes 65 field goal attempts and 25 free throw attempts, then plugging in the formula:  (100 * 85) / (2 * (65 + (.475 * 25))) = 55.3%

When a team has a true shooting percentage offense that is 10% or better than their defensive true shooting percentage, you are looking at a gem.

More importantly, there are offensive and defensive efficiency ratings adjusted by factoring schedule strength.  Look at the top 20 in both categories, making note of any team that appears in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  When a team appears in both top 20’s, they have Final 4 potential.  If a team appears in the top 10 in both, they have to be considered a strong contender to cut the nets down when they play “One Final Moment.”

If a team is in the top 10 in one category but not in the top 50 in the other, this team is good enough to get past the Sweet 16, and usually one Final Four team will have this characteristic, but only twice in the 21st Century (both times Connecticut) has the overall National Champion been outside the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  For what it’s worth, the Huskies moved into the top 20 during the tournament.

If you have to give one of the two efficiency stats more weight than the other, it should be the offense and not the defense like one might think.  Basketball is an offensive game.  Baseball is a defensive game.  For our purposes, a team with an offensive efficiency in the top 10 and a defensive efficiency in the top 20 that has an above average schedule strength is pure gold.

Criteria #2: Experienced and Clutch Players

It is rare for a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores that have no key upperclassmen in their playing rotation to make it to the Final Four.  Also, there needs to be a go-to player that can put his team on his shoulders and score the ultra-high leverage points.  What we are looking for here is a roster where at least one of the top 8 players is an experienced upperclassman, preferably with past NCAA Tournament experience.  We are also looking for a player that wants the ball with his team down one point and 10 seconds left in the game, or it can be a trio of guys where any one of the three could hit the last-second shot, even if they don’t generate the big headlines.

Criteria #3: Frontcourt Hero

In recent years, hitting from downtown has been the popular way to win games in the regular season.  We used to tell you to throw out the perimeter team as one that could never advance deep into the tournament, but times have changed.  Three-point shooting is now the base on balls of basketball.  However, the inside force is still the slugging percentage of basketball.  For a team to win six times after the Ides of March, they must have at least one inside force that contributes a double figure scoring average and a good number of average rebounds.  We personally look for a forward or center that averages 12 or more points per game and 7 or more rebounds per game, or two inside men that combine for 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.  If the team has one player that averages 14 points and 5 rebounds per game, and another player that averages 8 points and 7 rebounds per game, this is satisfactory.  That qualifies for enough inside force to win a close game when the opponent has the outside shooting advantage.

Criteria #4: Balance

This is an alternative to the team where one player can carry them to win after win.  If a team does not have a stud NBA Lottery pick on its roster, if they have a balanced team where four or more players average double figure scoring, it can be hard to shut them all down in a game.  One of the four is likely to have a hot hand.  It may not be as immediate, but sometimes the balanced team has the advantage if the one-star team’s star has his one off night of the season in the Sweet 16.  

Criteria #5: A head coach with NCAA Tournament experience, preferably winning Tournament experience

If the coach of a tournament team has taken a past team to the Final Four, he’s in elite company.  Treat this coach like royalty.  If the coach has taken a past team to the Elite 8, he’s almost as royal.  If a coach has taken past teams to multiple Sweet 16’s, then these coaches deserve bonus points.

Criteria #6: Strength of Schedule

A team from one of the bottom 10 conferences might go 28-3 in the regular season, and possess all of the above criteria above (maybe not criteria #5).  But, this team has probably played 90% of its games against Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 opponents, maybe all of its games against the bottom half.

Meanwhile, another team from one of the top three leagues might have stats that make you wonder why this team was invited to the Dance.  Schedule strength is the difference.  Annually, a team with a record like 19-14 from the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, or SEC gets an invitation to the tournament and wins a tournament game, while a team that went 29-4 and lost in the championship game of their low-major conference tournament is put in the NIT field, and a 30-4 low-major conference champion loses without really competing in their game.  

To win the NCAA Championship, a team must have defeated quality opposition and not just teams ranked lower than 250.  No team in the modern era has won the national championship with a schedule strength outside of the top 40.  There have been multiple #1 seeds with schedule strengths below #40 that did not make it to the Final 4, and every one that made it to the Final 4 failed to win the National Championship.  Butler in 2010 came within a couple inches of winning the title with a schedule strength outside the top 40.

Teams with weaker strengths of schedule can make it to the Final 4, but not very frequently.  To win four games in the Dance, a team usually has to be battle-tested.  If a mid-major has a schedule strength between 50 and 100, they have to be really strong in other criteria to pick to go to the Final 4.  In 2018, when Gonzaga advanced to the National Championship Game, their strength of schedule was in this range.  Butler’s strength of schedule was also in this range when they twice advanced to the Championship Game.  Loyola of Chicago just barely qualified.

Criteria #7: A Regular Season or Conference Tournament Champion

Rarely does a team win the national championship after not winning either their regular season or conference tournament championship.  It happens, but the conference championship and conference tournament championship teams have already proven they can win games when the money is on the line.

Criteria #8: Three-point Shooting Percentage

In the past, teams that relied on the three-point shot could be counted out after the Sweet 16.  That is no longer the case.  But, shooting three pointers is not the key; making them is the key.  It doesn’t matter how many of them a team takes, the percentage is the key.  Look for teams that hit 3 out of every 8, or to round it to a whole number, better than 37%.  3 of 8 from behind the arc is better than 5 of 9 inside.

Criteria #9: Offensive Rebounding Percentage

One would think that a rebound is a rebound, but offensive rebounds lead to more points than defensive rebounds, obviously because an offensive rebound is made within shooting range of a team’s basket, while a defensive rebound is more than 50 feet away from a team’s basket.

The key number here is also 37%.  If a team gets offensive rebounds on 37% or more of its missed shots, they are going to be tough to beat in the Big Dance.  Many times, close games are decided by key offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, even the final possession of games.  If a team has made it to the Sweet 16, if they can crash the offensive boards, they are dangerous.

Criteria #10: Defensive 2-Point Field Goal Percentage

After telling you that three-point shooting has become the rage these days, we’ve now mentioned having an inside scoring force, the ability to hit the offensive glass, and now we tell you not to look at three-point shooting percentage defense.  The ability to stop the close shots is much more important in tournament games.  About 60% of all field goal attempts are two-point attempts, and remember that an easy shot inside of five feet from the basket is still more important than an open three-point shot.  If a team has weak inside defense, and the opponent hits 10 baskets inside five feet of the basket, they are likely to consistently have a higher true shooting percentage than the team that averages eight made three-pointers per game.  Over the long haul, the three-point shooting magicians may have higher true shooting percentages, but their chances of having six consecutive higher true shooting percentages are much lower than the team that can get inside of five feet consistently and hit 12 of 18 shots in this crip zone .  

Look for a team with a defensive two-point shooting percentage lower than 45%.  Opponents will not be able to consistently score points against these teams.

Criteria #11: Free Throw Rate

We used to pan great free throw shooting teams, because they never won national championships.  In fact, for years, the national champion was always a sub-70% free throw shooting team.  None of the great UCLA teams during their 10-title run in 12 years shot 70% at the foul line.  We showed for years how the power team that may have averaged 18 of 27 at the foul line only lost three points to the top free throw percentage team that went 21 of 27.  These sub-70% free throw shooting teams easily made up that three points and more by controlling the boards against the finesse teams.

Free Throw Rate doesn’t look at free throw percentage.  Drawing fouls on the defense is more important, and we’ve been late coming to this side of belief.  We believed for years that free throws made per 100 possessions was a more important way to measure free throw rate than the standard Free Throw Attempts divided by Field Goal Attempts.  But, the key part of this stat is getting to the foul line more than it is making the foul shots.  Obviously, it is not great to fail to score at the charity stripe, but the essence here is still the same; if a team has to make foul shots to win games, they aren’t going to do so six times in the NCAA Tournament.  But, if they get to the foul line with higher frequency, it means two things much more important than scoring free throws.  First, the opponents are likely to see key players sitting on the bench with foul trouble.  More importantly, a team that gets to the foul line frequently probably is too talented offensively for average and above average defenses to handle.  Why are most fouls committed?  They are committed when a defensive player cannot adequately guard the offensive player.

The key stat to look for is a team with a FT Rate in excess of 37%.  Defensively, look for a team that has a FT Rate lower than 31%.  Those two stats tell you which offenses are dangerous and which defenses are tournament tough.

Criteria #12: The Old PiRate Data Still Matters

The old mainstay PiRate Ratings data still matters.  Those stats include:A scoring margin of 10 or more points for Final Four potential, and a scoring margin of 8 or more points for Sweet 16 and Elite 8 teams.  More than 80% of Final 4 teams across time have scoring margins of 10 points or more.  Don’t expect a team with a scoring margin of a few points to win four games in the NCAA Tournament.

A: Field Goal % margin.  Look for teams that have a regular FG% that is 7.5% better than their Defensive FG%.  If that number is 10% or more, this is a tough team.  A team with a 48% FG% and 38% defensive FG% is a gem.

B: Winning % away from home.  If a team won 75% of their games not played at home, they are tournament ready.  If a 25-8 team went 17-0 at home and 8-8 away from home, this team is a pretender.  A team has to win six consecutive games away from home to cut the nets, so don’t look at a .500 team away from home to beat six quality opponents.

C: A lengthy winning streak during the season.  Do you really think a team that never won more than three consecutive games during the season will now win six in a row against better competition?  Most national champions had either a winning streak of 10 or more games or multiple winning streaks of six or more games.

Criteria #13: R+T ©

We saved this one for last.  It is our personal creation.  Way back in the early days of the career of one of our favorite college basketball analysts ever, Clark Kellogg, we heard him mention the term, “Spurtability.”  He explained that teams with spurtability tended to win more NCAA Tournament games than others.  A team that could go on a quick scoring run in a short time frequently won NCAA Tournament games.

Then, we remembered back to our youth, when the NCAA Tournament was the UCLA Invitational.  When UCLA beat Duke in the 1964 National Championship Game, they broke open a close game with a 16-0 run in just two and a half minutes!  This was before the three-point shot existed.  They scored 16 points in about 150 seconds by forcing Duke to turn the ball over against their scary 2-2-1 Zone Press, and they converted over and over with fast break baskets.  The game was over after this.  That wasn’t the only time that year that 30-0 UCLA did that.  Coach John Wooden, in a lecture given to amateur coaches in the 1980’s, said that the 1964 team had at least one run like this in all 30 games that year.

Take two teams evenly matched playing in the Elite 8.  Both are highly ranked and deserving of that ranking.  Both are among the top teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and both played tough schedules.  With six minutes to go in the game Team A leads Team B by four points, when Team B goes on a 12-2 run in the next two minutes, forcing Team A to call time out, as they now trail by six points with four minutes to go.  Team B holds on for the win.

Can we predict the probability that one team will enjoy a spurt like this, and the other team will not?  We think most teams can enjoy a spurt like this, but we believe we can estimate which teams have the best chance to go on a decisive game-winning spurt.  That’s what the R+T rating calculates.

How does a team go on a big scoring run in short time?  We will tell you up front that a 16-2 run rarely comes about from seven regular possessions by both teams, where the 16-point team scores four two-point baskets, two three-point baskets, and two free throws, while the other team scores just one basket and misses six other times down the floor.

The spurt almost always happens due to a combination of turnovers forced, especially steals, and controlling the boards at both ends.  Getting multiple second and third shots on offense and allowing one shot per possession on defense leads to these checkmate spurts.

Looking at a teams’ stats, winning the rebounding and turnover stats, or what some call the “Hustle Stats,” predicts a team’s chances of having a big spurt.  All that’s left is to come up with a formula for Spurtability, and that’s what our R+T rating is.  Here it is:

(R * 2) + (S * 0.5) + (6 – Opp. S) + T

To explain: R = rebounding margin; S = average steals per game (and Opp. S = how many steals per game given up); and T = Turnover Margin.  Remember that fewer turnovers per game than committed is positive turnover margin, and more turnovers per game than forced is negative turnover margin.

Example:  Let’s Say that State U averages 38.6 rebounds per game and gives up 34.3 rebounds per game.  Their rebound margin is 4.3.  State averages 7.8 steals per game, and opponents steal the ball from State 5.1 times per game.  State averages 12.4 turnovers a game and forces 13.9 turnovers per game for a turnover margin of 1.5.  Now we have all the variables we need to calculate State’s R+T number.

(4.3 * 2) + (7.8 * 0.5) + (6 – 5.1) + 1.5  = 14.9

What this shows us is that State U has an R+T of 14.9 or an average of about 15 points per game in spurtability.

Is this good?  It is rather good but not champion good.  In most years, a handful of teams in the NCAA Tournament will have R+T ratings above 20.  In several years, the team with the highest R+T rating among those teams from the Power Conferences has won the national championship.

One more thing about R+T ratings. Any time a team has a negative R+T rating, throw them out immediately, even if they are a big-name team from a power conference.  No spurtability teams that have to win games by consistently winning more possessions in a half-court game are rarely going to make the Sweet 16.  One of the reasons the PiRate Ratings gained popularity was with our ability to predict higher-seed first round losers just by their having negative R+T ratings.  Two schools, Georgetown and Vanderbilt, earned three NCAA Tournament bids in an overlapping era between 2008 and 2013, and each time the Hoyas and Commodores had negative R+T ratings.  We picked against them in the first round in all six cases and went 6-0!  Georgetown lost as a #3 seed to Ohio U in 2010.  In 2011, they lost as a #6 seed to #11 VCU, in a game where the Rams R+T was 20+ points better.  In 2013, they were a 3-seed once again and lost to Florida Gulf Coast.

Vanderbilt had negative R+T ratings in 2008, 2010, and 2011.  In 2008 as a 4-seed, they lost to Siena.  In 2010, as a 4-seed, they lost to Murray St.  In 2011 as a 5-seed, they lost to Richmond.

On the other hand, in 2017, North Carolina finished the regular season ranked #6 in the nation with seven losses.  Villanova, Gonzaga, Arizona, Kentucky, and Kansas were rated ahead of the Tar Heels in the polls, and most so-called experts were going with Kentucky, Kansas, and Villanova as the favorites to win the championship.  We begged to differ.  North Carolina had one of the highest R+T ratings since we began calculating the rating.  It was almost 30.  We picked the Tar Heels to win the title, and they did that by going on frequent scoring spurts in those six games.  The difference in the championship game was the R+T rating, as Carolina enjoyed huge advantages in rebounding and turnover rates.  Gonzaga clearly had the better shooting and free throw shooting that night.

March 8, 2021

PiRate Ratings Bracketology

Date3/8/2021
SeedTeamTeamTeamTeamTeamTeam
1GonzagaBaylorMichiganIllinois
2Ohio St.AlabamaIowaWest Virginia
3HoustonArkansasKansasVillanova
4PurdueTexasOklahoma St.Florida St.
5VirginiaTexas TechUSCTennessee
6CreightonColoradoClemsonOklahoma
7OregonMissouriWisconsinFlorida
8BYULSUVirginia TechConnecticut
9RutgersSan Diego St.Loyola (Chi.)North Carolina
10MarylandSt. BonaventureUCLALouisville
11Georgia TechMichigan St.VCUColorado St.
12Western Ky.ToledoBoise St.DrakeWichita St.Xavier
13UCSBWinthropLibertyColgate
14UNCGS. Dakota St.Morehead St.Abilene Chr.
15E. WashingtonGeorgia St.SienaCleveland St.
16NortheasternBryantGrand CanyonHartfordNorfolk St.Prairie View A&M

Teams in Bold have secured automatic bids

The Bad Side of the Bubble

69Ole Miss
70Syracuse
71Utah St.
72Saint Louis
73Seton Hall
74SMU
75St. John’s
76North Carolina St.

Bracketnomics Tutorial Release Coming This Week!

Until recently, when our breakthrough Sabertooth Baseball Game went viral due to a Facebook post that we still do not know who the benevolent benefactor of great news is, our most popular annual activity here on the PiRate Ratings has been “Bracketnomics.”

For years, we have used technical statistics and other data to isolate the real March Madness contenders from the pretenders and to eliminate certain higher seeds due to their possessing “uh-oh” stats that show them ripe for a quick upset.

We were all set to debut our latest evolution of Bracketnomics last year, until Covidnomics defeated all sports in March of 2020. It gave us extra time to scour our resources and to look for more trends, in addition to the tried and true methods we have used for years.

Coming Friday, we will release our Bracketnomics 2021 Tutorial, so you can have the weekend to look it over and use the information the best way you know how. Please let the best way you know how be a method that involves no financial risk.

The PiRate Ratings personal creation of “R+T” Rating, schedule strength, and the Four Factors still hold considerable importance, but the handicapping of each data point has changed. Other sets of data added to the mix should let you clearly see which teams have the look of past national champions, Final Four participants, and even Cinderella Mid-Majors that might be ready to wear the slipper until there are just eight teams remaining.

Oh, and if you haven’t heard about our advanced analytics tabletop baseball game that went viral over the weekend, you can check it out at our sister site: https://sabertoothbaseball.wordpress.com and order a game at https://sabertooth-baseball.square.site , or click the link in the WordPress site.

March 1, 2021

PiRate Ratings Conference Tournament Preview

Some conference tournaments are already in progress, but no multi-bid conference tournaments have tipped off yet.  In the past, we tried to show you where to watch the conference tournaments, but it is quite easy to find that information on the Internet.  Starting this season, we will tell you the things you won’t easily find until the tournaments actually commence.  This year, not all conferences are holding their usual formats.  Some leagues are going with fewer teams and fewer days.  

We will tell you when and where each tournament will be played along with a bracket if the tournament is set.  Then, we will tell you the better “Bracketnomics” data.  We will explain our 2021 Bracketnomics criteria just before the NCAA Tournament begins play in a couple weeks. So without further adieu, let’s start the previews.

American Athletic Conference

Dates: March 11-14

Site: Fort Worth, TX

Teams participating: 11 in a regular format where 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9 in the first round and then the three winners play the top 3 seeds in the quarterfinals (3 vs. 6 or 11, 2 vs. 7 or 10, and 1 vs. 8 or 9).

Houston is the only team guaranteed a spot in the field, but Wichita St. has been moving up on the better side of the Bubble in recent weeks.  Memphis is making a late charge to get into consideration, but the Tigers don’t have enough games to impress the Selection Committee.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Houston has  many of the basic data needed to advance to the Elite 8.  Their schedule is a tad weak, so calling the Cougars a Final Four contender is a bit hard.  Maybe their schedule strength will improve enough if they can beat Wichita St. in the AAC Tournament and then beat a couple of tough teams in the Big Dance.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Dates: March 9-13

Site: Greensboro, NC

Teams participating: All 15 in a regular format with teams 10-15 playing in the opening round (10-15, 11-14, 12-13), and teams 5 through 9 plus the three winners in round one playing in the second round, while teams 1-4 receive double byes.

A four game winning streak has moved Georgia Tech up onto the good side of the Bubble, while a tough overtime loss to Louisville, has moved Duke down into a situation Mike Krzyzewski has not dealt with before–looking at the Dance from outside the ballroom window.  A late surge by North Carolina St. has given Kevin Keatts’ Wolf Pack a puncher’s chance if they can win their final three games against beatable opposition.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Believe it or not, but as of today, no ACC teams have bracketnomic criteria tailor-made to advance to the Final  4.  Florida St. has a great offense but not great defense.  Virginia is very good offensively and good defensively but not exactly good enough at either.  Virginia Tech looks like a team that will not get to the Sweet 16.  Louisville and Clemson lack the offensive firepower.  North Carolina’s offense is better than UL and CU, but not Final 4 worthy.  Duke isn’t playing defense this year.

America East Conference

Dates: February 27 – March 13

Site: Higher Seed for remainder of tournament

Teams participating: There are 4 teams left.  UMass Lowell has eliminated Stony Brook and New Hampshire to advance to the semifinals as the #7 seed.  They now face #1 seed UMBC in Baltimore this Saturday.  On the other side of the bracket, #4-seed Hartford topped Binghamton and Albany and will venture to Vermont on Saturday.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Vermont has much better credentials than UMBC, but the Catamounts are not talented enough to make it to the Sweet 16.  One win would still be remarkable.

Atlantic 10 Conference

Dates: March 3-6, 14

Site: Richmond, VA with championship game in Dayton, OH

Teams participating: All 14 teams will play in a regularly-seeded tournament with the 11 & 14 and 12 & 13 seeds playing in the first round, and seeds 5-10 plus the two first round winners playing in the second round, while seeds 1-4 receive double byes.

Both Richmond and VCU will be hosting the early rounds, and each will play on the other’s home court.  Because there are games tonight just 48 hours before the A-10 Tourney tips off, the brackets are still not set.  

Favorable Bracketnomics: St. Bonaventure, Richmond,  and Saint Louis have stats typical of teams that can win an opening round and possible second game.  Schedule strength is weak for both teams, but this is a weird year with Covid, so schedule strength may be out of whack until the Sweet 16.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Dates: March 3-7

Site: Jacksonville (at North Florida and Jacksonville)

Teams participating: 9 in a regular seeding with #8 & 9 playing to get to the quarterfinals.  Bellarmine, not eligible for the NCAA Tournament as a first-year Division 1 team, is eligible for the A-Sun Tournament, and they might be considered the co-favorite with Liberty.  LU has about a 90% chance of getting the league’s automatic bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  None this year.  This is not a strong enough Liberty team to compete for an opening round upset.  Bellarmine might have had a slightly better chance had they been eligible.

Big 12 Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Kansas City

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with teams 7-10 playing in the first round and teams 1-6 receiving byes to the semifinals.

Favorable Bracketnomics: First, and most importantly, Baylor does not have a grand resume of bracketnomically-favorable data.  The Bears give up points in the paint too easily, and their long layoff has removed a lot of the polish from this team.  Unless something changes between today and Selection Sunday, we will be looking at other teams that can knock out BU as early as the Round of 32 or Sweet 16.

West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Texas have resumes that shout Sweet 16 with a chance to make it to the Elite 8 and even sneak into the Final 4, but none of the three have championship resumes as of today.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. are a tad weaker in criteria.

As for Kansas, watch out!  The Jayhawks’ offense is inconsistent.  If the wrong offense shows up, the Jayhawks could be upset early in the tournament.  The win over Baylor shows the nation that this team has talent enough to beat anybody at the Phog, but away from home like in the blowout loss to Tennessee, KU may be more chalk than rock.

Big East

Dates: March 10-13

Site: New York City (Madison Square Garden)

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular format where 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9 in the first round and then the three winners play the top 3 seeds in the quarterfinals (3 vs. 6 or 11, 2 vs. 7 or 10, and 1 vs. 8 or 9).

Villanova, Creighton, and Seton Hall have seen their best games appear farther and farther away from the present.  UConn is looking better and better as each week passes.  Xavier is on the Bubble and may have a chance to earn a spot in the Dance after other bubblers have lost recently.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Villanova’s offense is stellar, but they play matador defense a bit too much.  Rarely does a team with their defensive efficiency make it to the Final 4, and it is less than 50-50 that playing the same way will get the Wildcats past the Sweet 16.

Creighton doesn’t have enough muscle inside to advance past the Sweet 16.  They give up too many easy inside baskets and cannot rebound well enough to compete against power opposition like what is played in the Big Ten and Big 12.

UConn doesn’t have a terrific resume either, but the Huskies can score cheap baskets in low possession games.

Big Sky Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Boise, ID

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular bracket with teams 1-5 receiving byes to the quarterfinals and teams 6-11 playing in an opening round.

Eastern Washington, Southern Utah, and Weber St. have been dominating the rest of the league in the last five weeks.  One of these three should win the automatic bid in Boise.  None of the three have enough defensive mite to win a game in the Big Dance.

Favorable Bracketnomics: None

Big South Conference

Dates: February 27-March 7

Sites: Higher seed home courts

Teams participating: This tournament has already begun, and they are down to 8.  The top 8 seeds remain with Hampton and High Point winning opening round games.  Top seed Winthrop is a prohibitive favorite.  4-seed UNC-Asheville is the team that beat Winthrop this year, but we don’t see a semifinal repeat if the two meet.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Winthrop could be a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their criteria is hard to judge  as their only quality wins came against UNC-Greensboro and Furman, neither of which can be confused for Virginia or Florida.  The Eagles could actually be an easy win for a 4-seed opponent.

Big Ten Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Indianapolis

Teams participating: 14 in a regular format with #11 & #14 and #12 & #13 playing in the opening round, seeds 5-10 plus the two opening round winners playing in the second round, and then the top 4 seeds receiving double byes.

Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio St., Wisconsin, and Maryland have made it to the safe status for the Big Dance.  Rutgers is close to earning its way in.  Indiana and Minnesota have fallen off the dance floor; both could be looking for new coaches in March.  Michigan St. has work to do to get in after falling to Maryland yesterday.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Michigan has a close to perfect resume as of today.  If the tournament began today, the Wolverines would be our favorite to win the National Championship.  In fact, looking at their data, it resembles that of past champions like North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA.

Illinois also has a Final 4 worthy resume as of today.  Purdue and Maryland have resumes that look like potential Elite 8 teams.  On the other hand, Iowa, Ohio St., and Wisconsin have chinks in their armors and are upset prone prior to the Elite 8 as of today.

Big West Conference

Dates: March 9-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with #7 & 10 and #8 & 9 playing in the opening round, while teams 1-6 receive byes in one of 5 tournaments to be held in Vegas.

In the past, this has been the UC-Irvine Invitational, but this tournament is open for new championship blood this year.  UCSB was cruising along with a long winning streak until UC-Riverside broke it with a win Saturday after almost doing the trick the night before.  UC-Davis is the hot team at this point, but the Aggies lost almost as many games to Covid as they played.

Favorable Bracketnomics: UCSB actually has decent enough data to contend for a first round upset bid against the right #2 or #3 seed.

Colonial Athletic Association

Dates: March 6-9

Site: Harrisonburg, VA (James Madison)

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format.  This tournament is now set.  In round 1, #7 William & Mary faces #10 UNC-Wilmington, and #8 Elon faces #9 Towson.  The 7-10 winner will play #2 Northeastern and the 8-9 winner will play top-seed and host James Madison in the quarterfinals.

Favorable Bracketnomics: #6 Drexel is our dark horse to sneak into the CAA Finals against JMU, but nobody has a worthy set of statistical data to win a game in the Big Dance.

Conference USA

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Frisco, TX (Cowboys’ practice field with two adjacent gyms)

Teams participating: 14 divided into two divisions.  The opening round will see seeds 6 & 7 from the same divisions playing each other.  The winners will play the #3 seeds from the opposite divisions.  4 N will play 5 S with the winner playing 1 S, and 4 S will play 5 N with the winner playing 1 N.  2 S will play 3 N and 2 N will play 3 S.

This is a wide open tournament.  In the North Division, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion are 1 & 2 with back to back games still to be played at Western.  Louisiana Tech, North Texas, and UAB are alive for the top South Division seed.  Marshall is #3 in the North, but the Thundering Herd are a force to be reckoned with and could sneak into the CUSA Championship Game.

Favorable Bracketnomics: North Texas and La. Tech have talented defenses.  Marshall has a fantastic offense.  Western Kentucky is solid but not spectacular on both sides of the court.  The league champion could foreseeably win one game in the Big Dance, but this isn’t a Sweet 16 year for this league.

Horizon League

Dates: February 25-March 9

Sites: Quarterfinals at Higher Seeds Then Indianapolis

Teams Participating: This tournament began last Thursday with Detroit beating Robert Morris, Youngstown St. beating Illinois-Chicago, Purdue Fort Wayne beating Green Bay, and Milwaukee beating IUPUI. 

The quarterfinals commence tomorrow with #1 Cleveland St. hosting Purdue Fort Wayne. #2 Wright St. hosting Milwaukee, #3 Oakland hosting Youngstown St., and #4 Northern Kentucky hosting Detroit.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Wright St. has the clear-cut best potential data for the NCAA Tournament, but the Raiders will not get an at-large bid if they don’t win the Horizon Tournament.  Cleveland St. and Detroit have just enough talent to upset the Raiders in this tournament, but neither has the criteria to make any damage in the Big Dance.  Wright St. just barely qualifies as a potential first round upset winner.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Dates: March 8-13

Site: Atlantic City, NJ

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular seeding with the top 5 seeds receiving byes and teams 6-11 playing in an opening round.

Siena, Iona, and Monmouth have been pacing this race for most of the year, but there is no clear-cut favorite in this tournament.  Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels might have the best chance of pulling off a first round upset in the Big Dance, but the MAAC is not likely to produce a winner in the Round of 64.

Favorable Bracketnomics: None

Mid-American Conference

Dates: March 11-13

Site: Cleveland

Teams participating: The top 8 in a regular seed format.

Toledo, Akron, Kent St., Buffalo, Ohio, Bowling Green, Miami (O), and Ball St. will be the 8 teams getting into the tournament, and probably 6 of the 8 could win this tournament.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Toledo has a potent offense, but their defense isn’t quite tournament tough.  The Rockets might be a 12-seed and no worse than a 13-seed, and they would be a scary first round opponent for a 4 or 5.

Buffalo can get the ball up the court and score quickly, and their defense is better overall than Toledo.  The Bulls are not as potent overall, but if they were to get in as a probable 13 or 14 seed, they could give the favored opponent a good game in the Round of 64.

Mideastern Athletic Conference

Dates: March 7-13

Site: Norfolk, VA (round 1 at higher seed)

Teams participating: The MEAC Tournament has been modified with three teams not playing due to Covid opt-outs.  The MEAC split into North and South Divisions to minimize travel, and the tournament will keep the divisional seeding.  The first round game, to be played at the higher-seed’s home court will pit the #4 South seed playing the #3 South seed.  In the quarterfinals, 3N plays 2S, and 1N plays the winner of the first round game.  In the semifinals, 1 N plays the winner of the 3N/2S game, while 1S plays the winner of the other quarterfinal (2N, 3S, or 4N).

While North Carolina A&T has had the best overall record all year, Norfolk St. is the host team for this tournament, and the Spartans will be the team to beat.  Morgan St. may be the best overall team, but unless the Bears can move up to the North 1-seed, they will have to win an extra game that the top two seeds won’t in order to get the automatic bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics: There is no such thing as a favorable bracketnomic for this conference, as the best this league can hope for is an avoidance of the dreaded 16-seed play-in game.  Norfolk St. and Morgan St., in theory, have slim chances to avoid the bottom four seeds and become a regular 16-seed or even 15-seed, if they win out in the regular season and take the automatic bid at the conference tournament.  They would then need help from other low-major conferences with tournament winners from back in the pack.

Missouri Valley Conference

Dates: March 4-7

Site: Saint Louis (Arch Madness)

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with 7 & 10 and 8 & 9 playing in the first round, while the top 6 receive byes to the quarterfinals.

This is an important tournament.  The Valley currently has two teams that look like near safe locks to get into the Big Dance.  Loyola of Chicago and Drake both have the needed resumes to receive at-large bids.  In recent years, a regular season also-ran has pulled off the upset in Saint Louis, and if one of the co-favorites fails to make the Championship Game, while an also-ran wins the automatic bid, that upset loser will be in jeopardy of missing out on getting into the field.

3-seed Missouri St. looks like the team with the best chance to sneak into the finals, but the Bears would have to beat a 24-3 Drake team to do it.  If you are looking for a surprise team, then take a gander at 8-seed Bradley.  The Braves would have to win four games in four days to pull off the trick, and it would include a quarterfinal upset of Loyola.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Loyola has the most efficient defense in college basketball this year, and their offense is strong but not strong enough to be considered a real contender for the Final 4.  However, their criteria at the moment is better than the criteria of their actual Final 4 surprise team of a few years back.

That said, Drake has a much better offense than Loyola, while their defense is a tad suspect.  The Bulldogs don’t look like a Final 4 team either, but in the early rounds, the strong offense tends to top a team with a strong defense, if the weak defense matches up against a weak offense.

Mountain West Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 11 teams in a standard format with the top five seeds receiving first round byes, while the 6-11 seeds play (6-11, 7-10, 8-9)

Brian Dutcher deserves some national coach of the year votes this year, after losing the best players off last year’s team and then after starting slowly, coming on strong with a 10-game winning streak that propelled the Aztecs from middle of the pack to the top of the MWC.  SDSU will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

How many teams get in the Big Dance from this league is a mystery.  Colorado St. and Boise St. are deserving.  On paper, Utah St. looks to be a tad better overall than CSU and BSU, but their overall resume isn’t as impressive.  The Aggies have work to do in this tournament in order to impress the Selection Committee, and at a minimum, USU may need to make it to the Championship Game and definitely must win its final two regular season games.

Favorable Bracketnomics: All four of the top teams have the bracketnomic criteria to advance to the Sweet 16 under the right circumstances, but none of the four have strong enough offenses to advance past that round.  Additionally, SDSU, CSU, and BSU lack the inside muscle to win against power conference teams that get to the Sweet 16.  Utah St. actually has the best Bracketnomic resume today, and they may not even get an invitation.

Northeast Conference

Dates: March 6 & 9

Sites: Higher seed

Teams participating: just the top 4 this year.  The NEC greatly truncated their conference tournament, limiting it to the top four seeds.  Bryant had clinched a top 2 seed and home game in the semifinals, but the Bulldogs’ season is now in jeopardy after positive Covid tests.  Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s, and Sacred Heart have clinched spots in the tournament, so the league must now make a determination on whether its best team can participate.

Favorable Bracketnomics: While no team comes close to having the right stuff to advance in the Dance, Bryant’s fast pace could have made an opening round game interesting and given the Bulldogs the favorite status if forced to play in the 16-seed play-in game.  Without Bryant, the automatic qualified can almost be guaranteed a spot in that play-in game as the underdog.

Ohio Valley Conference

Dates: March 3-6

Site: Evansville, IN

Teams participating: The top 8 only in a standard format with 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, and 2-7 in the quarterfinals.

Belmont looked like the sure winner and possible #12 seed in the Field of 68 until closing with a lost weekend in the Kentucky mountains, as top contenders Eastern Kentucky and Morehead St. trounced the Bruins.

For years, this tournament was held in Nashville, where the hometown Bruins had the edge.  Now, that it has moved to Evansville, the Kentucky teams have had the edge, but obviously this year it will be purely neutral.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  Belmont does not have the criteria to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament.  Morehead St. has slightly better criteria at the moment, while Eastern Kentucky is the potentially most dangerous team in a round of 64 game thanks to their unorthodox style of play.  However, Jacksonville St. and Murray St. cannot be counted out to pull off an upset or two and make it to the finals of the OVC Tournament.  This tournament should be one of the most exciting to watch, but it doesn’t look like the year that an OVC team advances to the Round of 32.

Pacific 12 Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 11 (Arizona ineligible) in a regular format with the top five teams receiving first round byes, while the 6-11 seeds play an opening round game (6-11. 7-10, 8-9)

The Pac-12 has been down for a generation, mostly because UCLA is no longer the UCLA of the 20th Century.  Oregon is the only league team to advance to the Final four in a dozen years.

UCLA, Oregon, and USC are still contending for the regular season title, while Colorado is mathematically alive.  Stanford has lost three games in a row to fall off the Bubble and will now have to earn the automatic bid to make the Field.

Favorable Bracketnomics: UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Colorado all have criteria favorable of making the Sweet 16, but none of the quartet looks like a Final 4 team.  UCLA, Colorado, and Oregon are too generous in the paint, while USC has begun to swoon at the wrong time.

Patriot League

Dates: March 3-6-10-14

Sites: Higher Seed Home Floors

Teams participating: 10 teams in a regular format where the top 6 receive byes to the quarterfinals while 7 plays 10 and 8 plays 9 in the first round.

What are we to make of Colgate?  The Raiders, winners of 10 consecutive games and mostly by lopsided scores, are in the top 10 of the very important Net Ratings, made more important this year with the limited interconference play.  On Net Ratings alone, Colgate would be deserving of the highest seed ever given to a Patriot League team, maybe a 6 or 7 seed!  There is no way the Committee can do this, considering that the Raiders have played no non-conference games, and the Patriot isn’t the Big Ten.  Navy has a win over Georgetown, but beating GU doesn’t move the needle much these days.  Army pinned the only league losses on the Raiders and Midshipmen, and the Black Knights would be the serious spoiler in the conference tournament.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  Not a chance to make the Sweet 16.  If Colgate wins the bid, the Raiders might have a good showing and keep an opening round game close enough to pull out an upset, but they won’t be in the Sweet 16.  Nobody else in this league can win anything more than a possible play-in game, but the Patriot League should avoid the 16-seed line, unless a bottom-seed like Lehigh or Holy Cross pulls off a huge upset.

Southeastern Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Nashville

Teams participating: 13 (Auburn ineligible) in a regular format where #12 & 13 play on opening night, with the winner facing #5 the next day, while 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9.  The top 4 seeds receive double byes.

Alabama clinched the top seed, but the Crimson Tide are starting to look like a somewhat fatigued team.  Arkansas and Florida are close to securing double byes, while the last double bye is still up for grabs between LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Missouri.

You haven’t seen Kentucky in this group, and the Wildcats will have to win four games in four days to earn an automatic bid.  This team lacks the consistency to do this, and the Blue Mist will have to wait a year to make its next appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee and Missouri, two teams that looked like locks in early February, now find themselves needing to do a little work to guarantee dance tickets.  Ole Miss took a crucial bad loss over the weekend and will have to win their final two regular season games and then make it to the SEC Tournament finals to have a chance at an at-large bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics: When Alabama’s three-point shots are falling, they can play Michigan and Gonzaga to a close and competitive game.  When their shots aren’t falling, they can lose at home to Vanderbilt.  Don’t expect the Tide’s shots to fall for four games in a row against NCAA-level defenses.  Additionally, Alabama gives up too much inside defensively, and they cannot rebound well enough to make up for poor shooting games.  Count the Tide out at the Sweet 16.

Arkansas has what Alabama lacks, but Arkansas lacks what Alabama has.  The Razorbacks could also make it to the Sweet 16 this year, but that’s as far as we can see them progressing.

Florida is on the periphery in a lot of criteria, but the Gators come up short in most of them.  A big stretch finish with a conference tournament win could move the Gators’ data into the Elite 8 status, but as of now, we don’t even show them as a strong Sweet 16 candidate.

LSU and Tennessee have been much too inconsistent, and both teams are below .500 in recent weeks.  This looks like a wait-until-next-year scenario for this league.

Southern Conference

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Asheville, NC

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with teams 1-6 receiving byes to the quarterfinals and teams 7-10 playing a first round.

This race was nip and tuck for weeks with multiple teams holding the top spot at times. UNCG finally won the regular conference championship in the final weekend, while Wofford came on strong to sneak into the number two slot.  UNCG definitely has the easier pass to the title game than Furman and Wofford.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Not this year.  None of the teams in the SoCon have favorable resumes at this time.  It’s not likely the league will produce a tournament win.

Southland Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Katy, TX  (greater Houston)

Teams participating: The top 8 (Stephen F. Austin ineligible) in a ladder system, where the #5 & 8 and the #6 & 7 play in the opening round; the #5/8 winner faces #4 and the #6/7 winner plays #3 in the next round, and the #1 and 2 teams receive byes to the semifinals.

With Stephen F. Austin becoming ineligible 10 days ago, it threw a giant wrench into the workings of the potentially best conference tournament.  Four teams clearly separated from the pack, and a final four of SFA, Abilene Christian, Sam Houston, and Nicholls would have been the best this tournament has ever seen.  

Favorable Bracketnomics: Abilene Christian’s defense is no piece of cake to attack, but the Wildcats lack the offensive firepower to be anything more than a game first round loser.  Sam Houston and Nicholls most likely would go down much easier in a Round of 64 game.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Birmingham

Teams participating: The top 8 seeds in a standard 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7 format

Covid may turn out to help the SWAC, because there is a chance that two league teams will finish conference play undefeated.  If Prairie View and Jackson St. keep winning, and the two teams meet for the automatic bid, there’s even a chance that the winner could become the first SWAC team in years to avoid that play-in game.

Favorable Bracketnomics: The bad news is that not playing in a play-in game would eliminate this league’s chances to at least see their representative win a tournament game.  The two top contenders are fairly adequate defensively, but neither has the offensive efficiency to score 65 points against a 1-seed much less compete.

Summit League

Dates: March 6-9

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Teams participating: 8 in a regular 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7 format

South Dakota St. won its final two regular season games to sneak past #2 South Dakota and #3 North Dakota St.  Oral Roberts had a strong final close to earn the #4 seed.  One of these four teams should cut the nets at the Falls.

Favorable Bracketnomics: South Dakota St. and Oral Roberts have just enough offensive efficiency to make an opening round game as a #14 seed interesting versus a #3 seed.  Neither look strong enough to pull off the upset, but a respectable 10-15 point loss wouldn’t be out of the question.

Sun Belt Conference

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Pensacola, FL

Teams participating: 12 in a divisional setting.  Games will be played in two arenas.  The top two teams in both divisions receive first round byes.  In the opening round, 4W Arkansas St. plays 5E Georgia Southern, with the winner playing 1E Georgia St.  4E Appalachian St. plays 5W Little Rock with the winner playing 1W Texas St.  3E South Alabama plays 6W UL-Monroe, with the winner playing 2W Louisiana, and 3W UT-Arlington plays 6E Troy with the winner playing 2E Coastal Carolina.

Favorable Bracketnomics: The only favorable possibility here is avoiding a 16-seed, especially a play-in game.  Texas St. and Coastal Carolina have the most favorable data, but neither can challenge a Michigan, Gonzaga, Baylor, Ohio St., Illinois, or Iowa.

West Coast Conference

Dates: March 4-9

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 10 but seeded totally different from any other conference tournament ever.  The league is going to seed its teams in the order that basketball analytics’ Einstein Ken Pomeroy rates them by adjusted win percentage.  It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that Gonzaga and BYU will be the top two seeds.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  It is no surprise that Gonzaga has one of the three best overall bracketnomics criteria today.  They have the look of an all-time great team not much different than the 1991 UNLV team that ran the table to the Final 4 before losing to eventual champion Duke in a major upset.

BYU also has a favorable criteria.  The Cougars are not Final 4 worthy, but they have a Sweet 16 criteria and even a potential Elite 8 set of data.

Western Athletic Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 6 (all that are eligible)  The number 3 team will play the number 6 team, with the winner advancing to play the number 2 team.  The number 4 team will play the number 5 team, with the winner facing the number 1 team.

This league has been hit hard by Covid cancellations, and multiple teams are not yet eligible to go to the NCAA Tournament, so this once proud league that had the likes of Arizona, Arizona St, Utah, and BYU has been reduced to Grand Canyon, Utah Valley, California Baptist, and UT Rio Grande Valley.  Still, there are two schools with Final Four banners in their gyms in Seattle and New Mexico St.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Nobody this year has a resume anything close to what New Mexico St. had last year when the tournament was cancelled.  The Aggies had a Sweet 16 resume in 2020, but they will have to come up with a monumental performance from one of the bottom four seeds to win the WAC Tournament.  If anybody other than GCU wins the tournament, they are looking at a 16-seed play-in game.

February 26, 2021

PiRate Ratings Bracketology

2/26/2021

SeedTeamTeamTeamTeamTeamTeam
1GonzagaBaylorMichiganOhio St.
2IllinoisAlabamaVillanovaIowa
3West VirginiaHoustonFlorida St.Oklahoma
4KansasCreightonTexasUSC
5VirginiaTennesseeWisconsinArkansas
6Texas TechPurdueColoradoClemson
7Oklahoma St.FloridaMissouriBYU
8RutgersVirginia TechLSULoyola (Chi.)
9UCLASan Diego St.OregonMaryland
10North CarolinaBoise St.LouisvilleDrake
11VCUSt. BonaventureColorado St.Connecticut
12ToledoWestern Ky.Seton HallXavierIndianaGeorgia Tech
13BelmontColgateWinthropUCSB
14Wright St.LibertyFurmanAbilene Christian
15IonaVermontE. WashingtonGrand Canyon
16James MadisonS. Dakota St.Texas St.Prairie ViewWagnerN.C. A&T

First 8 Out

69Michigan St.
70Wichita St.
71Stanford
72Duke
73Richmond
74Utah St.
75Minnesota
76Ole Miss

Conference Tournaments underway!

With March getting ready to come in like a lion, here’s a look at each of the conferences heading into conference tournament play.

One-Bid Leagues

America East: Maryland-Baltimore Co. & Vermont are tied at 10-4 in the league. The teams split a weekend series in Maryland. Vermont is the team more likely to contend in a #15 vs. #2 seed game in the NCAA Tournament.

Atlantic Sun: Liberty is 10-2 in the league but not as strong as last year’s team. Bellarmine is not eligible for the NCAA Tournament but will play in the A-Sun tournament. If they win, then Liberty gets the automatic bid. Lipscomb is 9-5 in the league and the hottest team of the contenders.

Big Sky: There will be many mid-major and low-major tournaments this year that should be wide open. This is one. Eastern Washington at 11-2 in conference play currently leads for the top seed, with Southern Utah (9-2) and Weber St. (10-3) vying for second place. Weber St. is probably the best of the three, but we wouldn’t be shocked if Montana (just 6-9 in the league) sneaks into the semifinals with a chance to win it from well back in the field.

Big South: Winthrop ran way with the league title and has lapped the field. At 17-1/20-1, the Eagles are contending for a #12 seed. If anybody else wins, it’s 16-seed almost for sure. Winthrop will be the biggest favorite to win their conference tournament, even more than Gonzaga.

Big West: UCSB will end UC-Irvine’s reign as regular season champions. The Gauchos (12-2/16-3) will still likely have to face either UCI (9-4/12-8) or UC Riverside (7-4/10-6) in the Big West Championship Game.

Colonial: It’s a down year in the CAA. In past years, four or five teams had the talent to do damage in a Round of 64 game. This year, we don’t see a win in the cards for this league. James Madison (8-1/13-5) and Northeastern (8-2/9-8) are the leading contenders for the automatic bid.

Conference USA: This is a conference with at least five teams talented enough to upset a higher seeded team in the Big Dance. Western Kentucky (8-2/15-5) has been at the top of the league all year. North Texas (8-2/12-6) and UAB (10-4/18-5) have been right there with the Hilltoppers. Louisiana Tech (10-4/17-6) and Marshall (6-4/12-5) are the hot contenders late in the season. Marshall may be the best of the bunch.

Horizon: This has been a two-team race like Easy Goer and Sunday Silence in past Triple Crown horse racing. Wright St. and Cleveland St. share the conference lead at 16-4. The only other team in the picture is Detroit at 10-6. WSU or CSU could win an opening round game in the Dance.

Metro Atlantic: This looks like a three-team race for the MAAC automatic bid. Siena (9-3) has led the league most of the season, with Monmouth (10-6) trailing. But, Iona (6-3) has started playing again after a long Covid layoff. They have an experienced tournament coach in New Rochelle; if you didn’t know, Rick Pitino is in charge, and the Gaels are the team to beat in our opinion. For declaration purposes, Monmouth coach King Rice is a friend of the PiRate Captain, and he’s rooting for the Hawks to fly high.

Mid-American: Of all the conference tournaments, this one historically has been the most exciting, because rarely has there been a clear-cut favorite. More teams from back in the pack have won this tourney in our memories than any other league. Toledo (13-3/18-6) has led the West all year with no competition, but the East looks like the 1967 American League pennant race. Akron (12-4/14-5) leads Ohio (9-3/13-6) only because of more games played. Kent St. (11-5/14-6) and Buffalo (9-5/11-7) are right there. Any of these five could win the lone bid, and then again, someone from back in the pack could do it again. Toledo could be a #12 seed if they win out.

Mideastern: This league has been really hit by Covid issues, with two teams choosing not to play and a third opting out in mid-season. North Carolina A&T (6-1) has been in first place all year. Norfolk St. (8-4) may be a little better come March. But, Morgan St. (6-4) is coming on strong and might be the true favorite to take the MEAC Tournament. The winner is looking squarely at a 16-seed play-in game.

Northeast: The NEC usually places their automatic qualifier in the Dayton play-in game for a 16-seed. The only difference this year, is the game will be played in the Hoosier State. Wagner (11-4) leads Bryant (9-4) with the rest of the field out of the race. Bryant might be the better team.

Ohio Valley: Belmont looked unbeatable in this league, until the Bruins went up to Eastern Kentucky and found out how tough the Colonels are on their home, even with no fans. Belmont (18-1/24-2) now must face an even tougher Morehead St. team (16-3 in the OViC) tomorrow. This league tournament is no longer just a rubber stamp for Belmont. The Morehead/EKU winner in a likely semifinal game will have a 40% chance of knocking out the Bruins.

Patriot: Colgate is in the top 20 of the NET ratings, the one data point that the NCAA Selection Committee places as the primary seeding factor. At 11-1 overall, all their games were played in the league. Four of those games came against Army, where the Raiders won three but lost once at home to the Black Knights. Colgate is an enigma. We don’t understand why they are rated so highly with no non-conference games, because the Patriot League is not highly-rated. Navy at 10-1/13-2 looks like a better team, and Army 6-6/10-7 already knows they can beat the heavy favorite. Colgate could be a 12-seed if they win out, and in this case, their 5-seed opponent will not be on upset alert.

Southern: This league has produced multiple bids in the past, but it won’t happen this year. There are five good but not great teams in contention, and the eventual winner will not be highly regarded as an upset special possibility. Furman (10-4/16-7) is methodically better than average but not flashy. They stay on an even keel with talent not quite as deep as the other contenders, but with more consistency. UNCG (12-5/17-8) plays a style of play that opponents don’t like to face, but when a team is solid handling the ball, the Spartans are not that hard to beat. Wofford (11-5/14-8) has been a snake in the tall grass, sneaking into the top of the league. East Tennessee St. (8-6/12-10) is a mere shell of its former self left by Steve Forbes, while Chattanooga (9-7/18-7) has been a major underperformer since New Year’s Day.

Southland: The potential seeding of this league took a big turn last week, when Stephen F. Austin decided to become ineligible this year rather than next year. What would have been an incredible 4-team scramble has lost one of its scramblers. Abilene Christian (11-1/19-3) is a team no Power Conference opponent wants to see in their bracket. The Wildcats are really tough on the defensive side of the ball, and a poor passing team can turn ACU into an efficient offensive puncher, because the Wildcats can intercept passes like the 1963 Chicago Bears! Sam Houston (11-2/17-7) and Nicholls (11-2/14-6) are the top contenders without SFA.

Summit: This should be another wide open conference tournament with four co-favorites. South Dakota (10-3/12-9), North Dakota St. (10-4/12-10), South Dakota St. (7-3/13-6) and Oral Roberts (8-5/11-10) are on close to equal terms at the end of February. We think SDSU is the favorite to win the tournament.

Sun Belt: This league is slowly falling in overall strength, and it is in danger of joining the NEC, MEAC, and SWAC in the annual play-in round for a 16-seed. Texas St. (10-3/16-6) has held the SBC lead for several weeks, but South Alabama (10-5/16-8), Louisiana (9-6/15-7), and Georgia St. (6-4/12-5) are lurking close behind. We like GSU from this group to win the conference tournament.

Southwestern: Covid may have helped this league a tad. The co-leaders, Prairie View (9-0/10-4) and Jackson St. (7-0/7-5) don’t play each other in the regular season. It could lead to a SWAC title game between two undefeated teams in conference play, making it one of the most exciting of the postseason. Texas Southern (6-3/9-8) is the dark horse.

Western: After the MEAC, the WAC has been next most affected by Covid issues. Technically, UT Rio Grande Valley leads the league today at 2-0 in the WAC and 9-4 overall. But, Grand Canyon (7-1/13-4) is two games ahead in the won-loss, even if UTRGV is 1.000 in percentage. Utah Valley is third at 6-3 in the WAC, but we wouldn’t rule out New Mexico St. (3-5/6-6). The Aggies not only couldn’t play home games, they couldn’t even return home during the shutdown of the Land of Enchantment. Chris Jans is the type of coach that can motivate and use the right strategy to win this tournament.

Multi-Bid Leagues

American: Houston is a lock, but the Cougars are in second place in the AAC to a Wichita St. team that beat them. WSU is likely to earn the top seed in the AAC Tournament, and the Shockers are on the Bubble and need a little more to add to their resume. Memphis has more than enough talent to win the tournament, but the Tigers don’t play cohesively.

Atlantic Coast: In the past, any team with a winning record in conference play was close to assured of earning a bid. Syracuse went 10-8 in 2017 and didn’t get a bid. This year, Florida St., Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Louisville, and Clemson are Dancing. Duke, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina St., in that order, are still in contention. We think the Seminoles are strong enough to advance past the Sweet 16.

Atlantic 10: St. Bonaventure and VCU share the lead at 10-3, and the Bonnies and Rams are close to becoming locks for the Big Dance. Richmond, at 6-3, has been on the Bubble for most of the season. Saint Louis (4-4) has suffered the same fate as New Mexico State, missing weeks of scheduled games. The Billikens may be the best team in the league if they have completely dusted off the cobwebs in March.

Big 12: Undefeated Baylor probably won’t enter the Big 12 Tournament without a blemish. The Bears could even have two league losses. BU is still rusty from a long layoff, and they must play at Kansas, at West Virginia, and at home against Oklahoma St. and Texas Tech. This league is probably set in tournament teams. Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma St. should be in the field. TCU is too far back to sneak into the field without earning the automatic bid.

Big East: Villanova and Creighton are locks, while Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Xavier still have work to do before they are safely in the field. Xavier faces a must-win game at home against Creighton tomorrow.

Big Ten: This league is still in a state of flux. The teams that were close to being safe at the back of the field have done everything they could to play themselves out, while Michigan St., once given up for dead, has done everything to play themselves in.

As of today, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio St., Iowa, Wisconsin, and Purdue are locks. The Big Ten will probably get nine teams in the field. Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan St., Indiana, and Minnesota are competing for three bids. If Indiana or Minnesota fall short, there could be a coaching availability or two in the Big Ten in March.

Missouri Valley: With Wichita State relocated to the AAC, one would think the days of the venerable Valley earning multiple bids was over. Guess again. Drake and Loyola are close to sure things before Arch Madness starts in Saint Louis. There is even a scenario where if one of the two co-leaders loses in the semifinals of the conference tournament, and the other loses in the finals, that three teams could earn spots in the Field of 68.

Mountain West: How about four MWC teams in the Big Dance? San Diego St. is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the end of February. They’ve made a move like Whirlaway, swatting their long tail at the rest of the field as the Aztecs head to the finish line gaining distance from the place and show teams.

Boise St. and Colorado St. have tournament-worthy resumes, while Utah St. is now well back on the bad side of the Bubble. The Aggies need to win the conference tournament. Watch out for Steve Alford’s Nevada Wolfpack! Nevada has won four consecutive ga,es to move into fifth place.

Pac-12: What looked like a five-bid league has lessened to four bids and a prayer. USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Colorado have done enough to win bids. Stanford has lost five of nine games, including two in a row to teams they needed to beat. The Cardinal need to win at USC next Wednesday, or they may be forced to win the Pac-12 Tournament to get in.

Southeastern: Don’t count out Kentucky just yet! The Wildcats (7-7/8-13) look like the team they were supposed to be. UK cannot earn an at-large bid with just three regular season games remaining, but once they get to Nashville, The Music City turns into the Bluegrass City. Calipari’s Cats can win four games in four days.

Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Florida, and Tennessee are in the field. Missouri was in for sure, but losses in four of their last five has created a shadow of doubt. Ole Miss has moved a half-game ahead of Mizzou in the league. The Tigers must close with Florida and LSU, while Ole Miss gets two games against last place Vanderbilt and a home game with Kentucky.

If there is a dark horse possibility in the SEC, then Georgia and Mississippi St. can stake claims to it. If Ole Miss and Missouri falter at the finish, the two Bulldogs can get into contention by winning out headed to Nashville.

West Coast: Gonzaga has yet to face any real competition. The Bulldogs look like the 1991 UNLV team that ran the table to the Final Four without opposition. Then, the Runnin’ Rebels ran into a Duke team that had not forgotten the 30+-point loss dealt to them in 1990’s Championship. The Bulldogs look like a potential run-the-table team, more like John Wooden’s UCLA teams than the 1991 UNLV team. Outside of the WCC, Gonzaga easily dismissed Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, and Virginia. Normally, this would have been enough to show the nation that the Zags were without a doubt the best team in the nation. Had Baylor not cancelled their scheduled game, Gonzaga might be sitting with the appropriate strength of schedule typical of a national champion in our Bracketnomics criteria.

BYU is the other team with an NCAA Tournament guarantee. The Cougars have been distant number two to Gonzaga, but at 9-3/18-5, BYU has a win at San Diego St.

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