The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 14, 2010

Bracketnomics 505–How to pick your NCAA Tournament Brackets

The Advanced Level Class In Bracket Filling

This is a graduate level class that will earn you a PhD in Bracketnomics.  So you want a scientific method to guide you as you fill out your brackets?  You say you want a system that will take out most of the human-bias, and allow you to pick your teams in a mechanical fashion.  Well, we’ve got one for you that has been back-tested and holds up fantastically through the years. 

What the inventor of the PiRate system did was to discover the vital information that has worked in the past.  He’s been using this formula since the Internet made statistics-gathering easy, and it has been back-tested as far back as the days when the NCAA Tournament field consisted of just 23, 24, or 25 teams.

This method will not pick every game correctly and make you an instant millionaire.  It is geared toward finding the tendencies that historically have mattered most in picking the teams with the best chances of advancing.  Not all teams will be a perfect fit in this formula; what this formula does is pick the teams that have the best chance of advancing and making a deep run into the tournament.

How has the formula performed in recent years?  Last year, it picked North Carolina to win the tournament.  Two years ago, it picked Kansas to win the NCAA Championship.  In 2006, it tabbed George Mason as a team to watch to sneak into the Elite 8 (they went to the Final 4).   It correctly selected Florida and UCLA for the Final Four in both 2006 and 2007. 

There have been a couple of seasons where the criteria didn’t apply successfully, but over the course of time, it has performed accurately more than 85% of the time. 

Beginning this year, we add a couple more factors that we hope make this system even more accurate.

Without further adieu, here is the PiRate Bracket-Picking System.

1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscore their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

This system really loves a team that outscore their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game while it worships teams outscoring opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and that team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance deep into the tournament.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores their opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

 

In the days of the 64/65-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row.  This average gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they aren’t going to win four games much less two.  This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64/65-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  Nowadays, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  If you see a team shoot better than 48% and allow 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back to the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance deep into the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams don’t always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive putbacks are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but over the course of four rounds, it is rare for one of these teams to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margin is the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds. 

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or more if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

4a. The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %).  Here is the PiRate R+T stat: R + (.2S * {1.2T}), where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.  When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.  When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated before the Sweet 16.

5. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

I’m sure up to this point you have been thinking that it is much easier for Sam Houston or Siena to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Kansas State or West Virginia.  Of course, that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that the top conferences get extra weight, while the bottom conferences get penalized.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at www.cbssports.com.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

6. NEW ADDITION FOR 2010: Won-Loss Record away from home.

Let’s say a big six conference team with a 22-8 record might have gone 16-0 and home and 6-8 away from home, while another team from a different big six conference with a 19-13 record might have gone 9-7 at home and 10-6 on the road.  The overall stats might show the 22-8 team to be better, but they built up those impressive numbers by padding the stat book at home.  Look for teams that can win by double digits away from home against teams in big six conferences.

These are the six basic PiRate criteria used for picking bracket winners.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others.  However, it can also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the top defensive teams in the nation, or the type that get into the Dance.  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive putbacks.  As explained earlier, the offensive putback is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big six stats.

Free Throw Shooting 

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75.  So, a team with one of the top FT% only scores nine more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That looks like a lot of points to make up, but consider that this is about the maximum possible difference.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that also have the top R+T ratings.  Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently got there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the point-difference.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win isn’t going to be around after the first weekend.  A team that goes 5 of 14 from behind the arc is better than a team that goes 10 of 28.  Both teams got to the Big Dance, and the team that took only 14 treys per game probably got there with an imposing inside game and great defense—just what is needed to cut the nets six games later.

One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that got to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, that will be a harder one to defend and one that will be consistent.  It’s hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this week. 

Now, here is a way to put numbers to the criteria.  It isn’t exactly the way our founder did it every year, but it is a close approximation.

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

Completely eliminate from consideration all teams with a negative R+T

6. Performance Away From Home

Award 3 points for every team that won 75% or more of its games away from home

Award 2 points for every team that won 60-74% of its games away from home

Award 1 point for every team that won 51-59% of its games away from home

Award -2 points for every team that had a losing record away from home

7. Schedule Strength

Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiple it by 100.  For example, Team A with an SOS of .5252 has a schedule 7 points weaker than Team B with an SOS of .5921.  If these two teams face each other, give the Team B an extra 7 criteria points over Team A ([(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7).

If you want to compile all this information yourself, the best way is to go to all 65 official athletic websites of the teams in the Big Dance.  You will find up-to-date statistical information.  Some of these stats are available in other places, but many have been found to be riddled with mistakes, or they are not up-to-date.  All 65 school sites are accurate and timely.

 

Coming Wednesday, we will break down the brackets and show you which teams we expect to advance past the first and second weekends.  We will break down every first round game and show you how the formula works in these games. 

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February 26, 2010

A Little February Madness

Who’s In, Who’s On The Bubble, Who’s Out

As we mentioned in the previous article earlier this week, the first conference tournament action begins Tuesday, March 2.  It’s time to take a serious look at which teams are in the Big Dance, which teams are on the bubble, and which teams are on the outside looking in.  As of today, we believe 51 teams have already done enough to earn bids to the NCAA Tournament.  That leaves 14 teams left to gain admission to the dance.  We believe 21 teams are serious bubble teams as of today.

First let us start with the conferences that will receive only one bid.  This means only the conference tournament champion will advance to the dance, or in the case of the Ivy League, the regular season champ.

America East

Stony Brook has clinched the regular season title, and Coach Steve Pikiell may be on the radar screen at schools in more prestigious leagues.  The Seawolves have been a D1 school less than 10 years, and their defense might give someone fits in a first round game.  Of course, they have to win the automatic bid.  Vermont, Maine, and Boston U. are all capable of winning this tournament.  BU has underachieved somewhat this year with all the experienced seniors on their roster.

Atlantic Sun

This isn’t going to be another season where the league representative comes within one shot of beating Duke in the opening round.  None of the teams in this league are capable of winning a first round game.  Jacksonville currently leads Campbell, Belmont, and Lipscomb by a game with one game to go.  East Tennessee and Mercer are good enough to win three games in three days. 

Jacksonville won the regular season title last year, but the Dolphins failed to win the tournament.  It’s been almost a quarter century since they last made it to the Dance.  The days of Artis Gilmore and Rex Morgan led the Dolphins to the Championship Game.

Big Sky

Weber State isn’t as good this year as they were last year, but the Wildcats could make the Dance this year after settling for the NIT last year.  Northern Colorado has overachieved this year, while Montana State has underachieved.  Montana always seems to be in the mix, and the Grizzlies are there again this year.  Weber State should be a considerable favorite, but any of these other three could beat them on a given night.

Big South

Cliff Ellis could be on the cusp of taking his fourth different team to the NCAA Tournament.  His Coastal Carolina Chanticleers won the regular season title and are the favorites to win the conference tournament.  It won’t be easy, because CCU split with second place teams Winthrop and Radford.  Radford won the tournament last year, and the Highlanders have the most dominating player in the league in center Art Parakhouski.

Big West

UC Santa Barbara leads Pacific by a game and a half after Pacific was upset last night by UC Riverside.  This is one conference where we actually expect someone other than the top two teams to win the automatic bid.  Long Beach State and Cal St. Fullerton look like teams to watch out for, but even last place UC-Irvine could win this tournament.

Colonial Athletic

In past years, there were possible at-large teams in this conference, but even current number one team Old Dominion is not even worthy of the back of the bubble.  Besides ODU, Northeastern, George Mason, Va. Commonwealth, William & Mary, Drexel, and Hofstra all have the talent to win this tournament.  Old Dominion won the College Insider Tournament last year, and they are tournament savvy.

Ivy League

Cornell is on the verge of securing the Ivy League championship again, and this year, the Big Red have the talent to shock an opponent in the first round and maybe first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  Cornell hosts Princeton tonight, and a win over the Tigers would mean they would need to win just one of their final three games to win the league title.  If Princeton wins, then these teams could be headed toward a playoff game in a couple weeks.

Metro Atlantic

Siena had a chance to get onto the bubble for an at-large bid, but Butler ended that in the Bracketbuster last week.  Now, the Saints have to win the MAAC Tournament to get back to the Dance.  Iona and Fairfield are not in Siena’s class, but either team could beat Siena in a title game.

Mid-American

This conference has fallen back in the pack in recent years.  Kent State and Akron have won three more conference games than any other MAC team, and they will be heavy co-favorites in the tournament.  

Mid-Eastern Athletic

Morgan State has dominated this league since Todd Bozeman took over as head coach, and this year is more of the same.  MSU leads Delaware State by two and a half games, and it will be a major upset if they don’t four-peat.

Northeast

The four teams picked to contend for the league championship will finish one-two-three-four in the regular season.  Robert Morris, Quinnipiac, Mt. St. Mary’s, and Long Island should be the four teams making it to the conference tournament semifinals.  Any of these four could emerge victorious.

Ohio Valley

Morehead State pinned the first conference loss on Murray State last night, and these two teams should play a rubber game in the conference tournament championship game.

Patriot League

This league is rather balanced, and there is no clear-cut favorite.  There isn’t much difference between first place Lehigh and last place Army.  Bucknell has begun to play like they used to earlier in the decade; the Bison have won seven of their last nine, but they got it handed to them Wednesday night at Lehigh.

Southern

With Davidson down following the graduation of Stephen Curry and Andrew Lovedale, this race is up for grabs.  Wofford, Western Carolina, College of Charleston, and Appalachian State are the four best teams, but none are dominant in this league.

Southland

Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin have been the cream of this crop for a couple of years, and one of these two should win the automatic bid.

Southwestern Athletic

Jackson State is the only team capable of escaping a play-in round game.  If any other SWAC team wins the conference tournament, that team will be in Dayton on Tuesday, March 16.

Summit League

Oakland and IUPUI are the co-favorites heading into the conference tournament.  Both teams could be an interesting first round matchup as a 13 or 14-seed.

Sunbelt

Eight teams are strong enough to win this conference’s automatic bid.  None of them are dominant enough to be a true favorite.  Troy, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Denver will make this tournament very interesting.

Western Athletic

Utah State has emerged yet again as the class of the league, but the Aggies have not done enough to make the bubble.  New Mexico State, Nevada, and Louisiana Tech have the talent to knock USU out of the Dance, but the Aggies are a strong favorite.

Here is a look at the conferences where an upset in the conference tournament will merit an extra team getting a bid.

Conference USA

No longer is Memphis a sure thing.  In fact, the Tigers probably must win the conference tourney to get in.  UTEP is the team that has done enough to earn an at-large bid this year.  Memphis and UAB are on the Bubble, but they are far down on the list.  Marshall and Tulsa are capable of running the table in the tournament and sneaking in with the automatic bid.

Horizon

Butler is in the field of 65 regardless of how the Bulldogs perform in the Horizona League Tournament.  There really isn’t a team that can be considered a serious upset threat to Butler.  While Green Bay and Wright State are the best of the rest, lowly Detroit has been the only league team to play Butler close, losing by two in overtime and by five in the two meetings.

Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa will earn an at-large bid even though the Panthers have lost two of their last four games.  Wichita State, Illinois State, Bradley, and Creighton have the talent to run the table in St. Louis.

Pacific-10

Could it be that this once top conference will earn just one bid?  If California wins the conference tournament, it could happen.  It could even happen if Cal loses prior to the Pac-10 tournament championship game.

West Coast

Gonzaga is in the NCAA Tournament.  St. Mary’s is close to being in, but they are just a bubble team.  Portland is strong enough to upset St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. 

Here is a list of the conferences that will receive more than one bid.

Atlantic Coast

Duke, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest are in, even though Va. Tech has a poor non-conference schedule.

Clemson and Georgia Tech are on the Bubble.  Neither will get in with a 7-9 conference record in this year’s ACC.

Atlantic 10

This is the sexy conference this year.  Seven teams still have a legitimate shot at earning bids, and a minimum of three will get in.

Temple, Richmond, and Xavier are virtual shoo-ins.  Rhode Island is on the top of the Bubble, while Charlotte and Dayton are on the regular Bubble.  St. Louis has work to do, but the red-hot Billikens can place themselves squarely on the Bubble by winning their final three regular season games.

Big East

This is clearly the top conference in the land this year.  No fewer than six teams will earn bids, and as many as nine could get invitations.

Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown are in.  Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Cincinnati are on the Bubble.  At least two of these teams should play themselves into the high end of the Bubble, while a third could sneak into the act if there aren’t many upsets in the other leagues. 

Seton Hall has a very favorable schedule, and if the Pirates edge Marquette this weekend, they could finish 10-8 in the league.  They are the longest shot, and they could put themselves in position to be in position on Selection Sunday.  You have to believe that any team that finishes above .500 in this league this year will receive serious consideration.

Big Ten

Purdue took a big blow with the loss of Robbie Hummel, but all that means is they may have to settle for a 2-seed.  Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are also in.  Illinois is on the firm part of the Bubble, while Minnesota and Northwestern are on the bottom of the Bubble.  Both teams have to play two more on the road, and it looks like the NIT for both.

Big 12

Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, and Baylor are in the Dance.  Texas A&M as at the top of the Bubble.  The Aggies close at home with Texas and Oklahoma State and at Oklahoma.  Two wins gets them in for sure, while one win keeps them on the Bubble.

Oklahoma State is on the Bubble.  They close with Kansas at home, Texas A&M on the road, and Nebraska at home.  If they only win against the Cornhuskers, they have to win twice in the Big 12 Tournament to be under consideration and thrice to be sure things.

Mountain West

New Mexico and BYU are both in the Dance.  Both could move up as high as 5-seeds in the field of 65.

UNLV and San Diego State are on the Bubble.  The Runnin’ Rebels benefit from hosting the tournament much to Lobo Coach Steve Alford’s and Aztec Coach Steve Fisher’s chagrin.

Southeastern

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee are in.  Florida is on the top part of the Bubble and needs just one more signature win or two more wins of any kind.  Mississippi State is on the regular Bubble and appears to be headed to the West Division title.  Ole Miss must win out and then get to Saturday in the conference tournament.

February 6, 2010

A Better Way To Expand The NCAA Tournament

A Better Way To Expand The NCAA Tournament Field

Field of 88

The NCAA is tinkering with the idea of expanding the basketball tournament field from 65 to 96 teams.  Under this format, 32 teams would receive first round byes, while 64 teams would be forced into a “play-in” round. This would allow just about every .500 team in conference play in the top six conferences a great shot at making the field.  It supposedly would allow the regular season champions from the mid-majors to get in the field if they did not win their conference tournament championship.

I have a better idea, and I believe it would create maximum excitement.  Almost every fan fell in love with George Mason when they made their run to the Final Four.  It’s what is supposed to create all the excitement when a “little team” makes a deep run.  My plan would allow for a “little team” to make a deep run every season, while giving more of the power conference teams a chance to make the field.

Here’s how I propose an 88-team field.

1. Divide the conferences into two categories, similar to how football has BCS and non-BCS conferences.  Call the elite conferences the “56 Division” and the other conferences the “32 Division.”  

2. The 56 division will consist of the top 10 conferences in RPI over the previous five years, and the 32 Division will consist of the remaining 21 conferences (plus Independents and the yet-to-be-awarded an automatic bid Great West Conference).

3. The 32 Division will conduct their conference tournaments during the Wednesday through Saturday falling between February 25 to March 3, while the 56 Division will conduct their conference tournaments during the Wednesday through Sunday falling between March 4 and March 11.

4. On the Sunday following the 32 Division conference tournaments, the NCAA will announce their field of 32.  This will allow for all 21 conference tournament champions to make the field plus the top 11 at-large.  So, if a team from the Southland Conference finishes 29-4 but loses in the Southland Conference Tournament, that 29-4 team will get in the field of 32.

5. On the Sunday that concludes the 56 Division conferment tournaments, the NCAA will announce their field of 56 teams.  This averages out to 5.6 teams per large conference.  If the numbers ten, nine, and eight conferences receive just two bids each, then the remaining seven conferences will split 50 bids, more than seven per league.

6. The 32 Division will begin their opening two rounds of NCAA tournament play during the week that the 56 Division will be conducting their conference tournaments.  They will play two rounds, the first one falling on the Wednesday and Thursday of that week, and the second round falling on the Friday and Saturday of that week.  By Sunday, when the 56 Division field is announced, there will be eight teams remaining in the 32 Division field.

7. The 32 Division continues to play its own bracket for the next three games.  The 56 Division plays its own bracket for its first three rounds.  The next week after the 56 Division teams are selected will be much like it is now.  On the following Thursday through Sunday, two rounds will be played.  The 56 Division will have 14 teams remaining, while the 32 Division will have two teams left.  This leaves the same Sweet 16.

8. The following week, the two remaining 32 Division teams will join the bracket that included the overall #1 seed.  Those two teams will play for the 32 Division title, and the winner will then be one of the Elite 8.  The 56 Division will move from 14 to seven teams during this first game of the weekend.  The 32 Division champion will now play in the Elite 8 against a 56 Division team.

9.  Teams will be seeded 1-56 in the 56 Division and 1-32 in the 32 Division with no consideration given to conference affiliation.  Two teams from the same conference might play in the first round.

This guarantees that a mid-major or lower-prestigious team will advance to the Elite 8 every year.

Here’s an example of how this tournament might look.  For the sake of argument, let’s say these 10 conferences would be considered the 56 Division:  ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Pac-10, and SEC.  

The 32 Division would then take the remaining conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, SWAC, Summit, Sunbelt, WAC, and West Coast.

Let’s say these teams won the 32 Division conference tournaments:

America East—Vermont

Atlantic Sun—East Tennessee

Big Sky—Weber State

Big South—Coastal Carolina

Big West—Pacific

Colonial—George Mason

Horizon—Green Bay (upsetting Butler)

Ivy—Cornell

MAAC—Iona (upsetting Siena)

MAC—Kent State

MEAC—Morgan State

Northeast—Robert Morris

Ohio Valley—Morehead State (upsetting Murray State)

Patriot—Lafayette

Southern—Charleston

Southland—Stephen F. Austin (upsetting Sam Houston)

SWAC—Texas Southern

Summit—IUPUI

Sunbelt—Arkansas State

WAC—Utah State

West Coast—St. Mary’s (mild upset over Gonzaga)

These 21 conference champions automatically make the field of 32, and the five upset victims are easily chosen as well.  Additionally, six more teams are selected from these conferences—Louisiana Tech, Oakland, Old Dominion, Western Carolina, Akron, and Northern Colorado.

The 56 Division Field is announced on Selection Sunday, with these 56 teams in the field (Bold represents automatic qualifier by virtue of conference tournament championships)

ACC (8)—Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson

Atlantic 10 (5)—Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island, Richmond, and Charlotte

Big East (10)—Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, and Marquette

Big Ten (5)—Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois

Big 12 (7)—Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma St., and Baylor

CUSA (4)—UAB, Tulsa, UTEP, and Memphis

Missouri Valley (2)—Northern Iowa and Wichita State

Mountain West (4)—BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State

Pac-10 (3)—California, Arizona State, and Washington

SEC (8)—Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama and Ole Miss

Villanova is named the overall number one seed, so the 32 Division champion will be placed in the bracket with Villanova.  Should Villanova win its first three tournament games, the Wildcats will face the 32 Division champion for a trip to the Final Four.  If Villanova is upset before making it to the Elite 8, the 32 Division champion will still play the team from that part of the bracket that makes it to the Elite 8 (the bracket will not be re-arranged).

Here is a computer simulated version of the tournament.

32 Division

Round One—played March 10 and 11

Butler  74  Texas Southern 62

Gonzaga 80  Lafayette 58

Cornell 72  Arkansas State 55

Old Dominion 68  Robert Morris 64

St. Mary’s 69  Vermont 52

Siena 75  East Tennessee 69

Stephen F. Austin 77  Utah State 74

Sam Houston 69  Coastal Carolina 67

Akron 58  Louisiana Tech 55

Green Bay 64  Kent State 60

Oakland 74  Morgan State 69

George Mason 62  Western Carolina 60

Pacific 83  Iona 78

Morehead State 72  Charleston 65

Weber State 90  Northern Colorado 77

Murray State 77  IUPUI 75 ot

Round Two—played March 12 and 13

Butler 69  Murray State 62

Gonzaga 85  Weber State 68

Cornell 67  Morehead State 62

Pacific 71  Old Dominion 67

St. Mary’s 70  George Mason 55

Siena 70  Oakland 60

Sam Houston 65  Akron 60

Stephen F. Austin 66  Green Bay 63

Round Three—played March 18 and 19

Butler 74  Sam Houston 60

Gonzaga 89  Stephen F. Austin 70

Cornell 82  Siena 80 2ot

St. Mary’s 73  Pacific 65

Round Four—played March 20 and 21

St. Mary’s 66  Butler 63

Gonzaga 78  Cornell 71

32-Division Championship—played March 25 or 26

St. Mary’s 72  Gonzaga 70

St. Mary’s moves on to the Elite 8 as the number 8 seed in the Villanova bracket.

56-Division

Round One—played March 18 and 19

Villanova 75  Alabama 66

Michigan State 65  Florida 63

Cincinnati 73  Northern Iowa 64

Oklahoma State 80  Richmond 66

Kansas 73  Illinois 70

Tulsa 70  New Mexico 61

Missouri 81  Temple 72

Clemson 77  UAB 70

Syracuse 73  Virginia 62

Vanderbilt 80  Washington 69

Texas 91  South Florida 69

Ohio State 73  California 60

Duke 91  Arizona State 72

Notre Dame 72  Rhode Island 71

B Y U 70  Wichita State 64

Texas A&M 74  Charlotte 67

West Virginia 83  UTEP 73

South Carolina 69  Purdue 67

Wake Forest 72  Florida State 67

Georgia Tech 80  UNLV 65

Kentucky 88  Memphis 77

Wisconsin 61  Marquette 58

Maryland 85  Pittsburgh 77

Louisville 65  Baylor 63

Kansas State 75  Virginia Tech 64

Mississippi State 71  Georgetown 69

Tennessee 82  San Diego State 68

Xavier 72  Ole Miss 60

Round Two—played March 20 and 21

Villanova 82  Oklahoma State 71

Michigan State 73  Cincinnati 66

Clemson 81  Kansas 74

Missouri 84  Tulsa 69

Syracuse 73  Ohio State 65

Vanderbilt 72  Texas 70

Duke 85  Texas A&M 70

Notre Dame 71  BYU 66

West Virginia 77 Georgia Tech 74

South Carolina 73  Wake Forest 70

Kentucky 84  Louisville 75

Maryland 68  Wisconsin 64

Kansas State 70  Xavier 67

Mississippi State 75  Tennessee 70

Round Three—played March 25 and 26

Michigan State 66  Villanova 64

Missouri 91  Clemson 83

Syracuse 72  Vanderbilt 64

Duke 81  Notre Dame 70

West Virginia 71  South Carolina 62

Kentucky 82  Maryland 70

Mississippi State 74  Kansas State 70

Elite 8 Round—played March 27 and 28

St. Mary’s 65  Michigan State 62

Mississippi State 76  Missouri 72

Kentucky 80  Syracuse 73

West Virginia 82  Duke 80

Final Four—played April 3

West Virginia 69  St. Mary’s 61

Kentucky 81  Mississippi State 72

Championship Game—played April 5

Kentucky 79  West Virginia 74

March 21, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament: 2nd Round Games Played On Sunday, March 22, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Sunday, March 22, 2009

 

Friday’s games were a little more surprising than Thursday’s games, and several of the games that were won by the team expected to win were exciting and tough to the finish.  Siena has now won first round games in consecutive years over teams from a power conference.  The Saints could be on the verge of becoming Gonzaga East.

 

Our picks for day two went 11-5, bringing our total for round one to 24-8.  FWIW, we not only picked Siena to beat Ohio State, we almost hit the score exactly, missing by just two points.  Of course, a broken watch displays the correct time twice a day.

 

Here is a look at the Round of 32 games for Sunday.

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

Pittsburgh (14) vs. Oklahoma State (0) [Schedule strengths are equal]: The Panthers struggled against East Tennessee’s pressure defense, committing numerous turnovers.  They could have easily become the first number one seed to lose to a 16-seed.  Oklahoma State is a quicker, better version of ETSU, but Pittsburgh should be able to hold off the pesky Cowboys.  We expect Pitt to be ready for OSU’s pressure and play less error-prone ball.  Pittsburgh will advance to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 73 Oklahoma State 62

 

Wisconsin (2) vs. Xavier (8) [Wisconsin has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: The Badgers held on tough to eke out an overtime win over Florida State Friday night, while Xavier had an easier workout against Portland State.  The Musketeers could sneak into the Sweet 16.  They are the type of team that can beat Pittsburgh and even Duke if their three big shooters are on their mark.  We believe Wisconsin’s best days are two years down the road, and it is a credit to Coach Bo Ryan to get them to the second round this year.  However, we expect the Badgers to be out of the Dance after this one.

 

Prediction: Xavier 64 Wisconsin 57

 

South Region

Arizona State (4) vs. Syracuse (4) [Syracuse has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: This should be the best game of the day.  Arizona State has two excellent three-point shooters, and it takes a good outside shooting team to beat Syracuse.  The Orangemen will press the tempo and force the Sun Devils to play at a faster pace than they would like.  If Syracuse can keep from hitting the wall, they should advance.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 80 Arizona State 71

 

Midwest Region

Louisville (10) vs. Siena (5) [Louisville has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: Siena had enough talent to top Ohio State, but Louisville will be too much for the Saints to handle.  The Saints will not be able to beat the Cardinals playing the same game against a team with better athletes.

 

Prediction: Louisville 79 Siena 62

 

Arizona (-2) vs. Cleveland State (7) [Arizona has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: This should be a close game.  Arizona’s PiRate criteria score is a negative number, but when you add the four points for strength of schedule advantage, this game becomes a virtual tossup.  CSU plays terrific defense, while Arizona relies more on offense.  This game will be decided on the Cardinal side of the court.  If Jordan Hill can hit his inside shots, Arizona should prevail.  If Hill cannot get open or cannot connect from his normal range, then the Vikings can be this year’s surprise team in the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Arizona 65 Cleveland State 61

 

Dayton (5) vs. Kansas (10) [Kansas has a schedule 5 points per game stronger]: Kansas never expected North Dakota State to keep their round one game close for 35 minutes.  Dayton never really pulled away from West Virginia, but the Flyers led throughout their game.  Round two should be a different bird.  Kansas looked a little rusty after losing early in the Big 12 Tournament and going a week without playing.  They should play much better in round two, and Dayton won’t have enough talent to stop KU.

 

Prediction: Kansas 74 Dayton 64

 

Southern California (2) vs. Michigan State (7) [Michigan State has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: On paper, Michigan State looks to be better than USC by double digit points.  However, USC has put it all together in the past two weeks and must be considered 7-10 points better today than they were in January.  We’ll stick with the Spartans to sneak by in this game, but a Trojan win would be no big surprise.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 71 Southern Cal 64

 

West Region

Missouri (14) vs. Marquette (9) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Missouri will wear Marquette down as the game wears on.  Eventually, the Tigers will go on a run in the second half and put this game out of reach.  A Memphis-Missouri Sweet 16 match would be possibly the most exciting game of the entire tournament.

 

Prediction: Missouri 74 Marquette 65

March 20, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament: 2nd Round Games Played On Saturday, March 21, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

2nd Round Games Played On

Saturday, March 21, 2009

 

Thursdays games basically went according to expectations with a few exceptions.  One number 12 seed won over a five-seed when Western Kentucky controlled Illinois for much of the night.  We told you we thought WKU could pull off the upset, even though the system chose Illinois (but could not adjust for the loss of a key starter).  For what it’s worth, our Thursday picks went 13-3.

 

Here is a look at the Round of 32 games for Saturday.

 

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

UCLA (14) vs. Villanova (9) [Villanova has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: Both teams had scares in round one and were fortunate to survive to round two.  The Bruins have the criteria advantage here, but Villanova has home town advantage plus a slight strength of schedule advantage.  This game will look similar to the 1971 championship game between these same schools.  UCLA won that won by single digits.  That Villanova team had two stars, whereas the UCLA squad had five really good players.  Usually five really good players can beat two stars, but home town advantage eliminates that advantage.  We’ll go with the Bruins in a very close game.

 

Prediction: UCLA 64 Villanova 62

 

Texas (3) vs. Duke (14) [Duke has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: Duke has all the advantages here.  Watch Duke’s Gerald Henderson and Texas’s Damion James.  This is the key to this game.  If James can dominate better than Henderson, Texas has a chance.  We’ll select the Blue Devils to win, but it should be an interesting game.

 

Prediction: Duke 75 Texas 69

 

South Region

 

North Carolina (17) vs. LSU (14) [North Carolina has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: You usually never see two power conference championship teams facing off in the second round of the tournament, but the SEC is down this year.  So the regular season SEC champion faces the regular season ACC champion.  Add to that the fact that both of these teams have PiRate criteria in the double digit range.  This is almost a home game for the Tar Heels, and they are the dominant team in this region.  Carolina advances to the Sweet 16, and the SEC is done for the season.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 84 LSU 70

 

Western Kentucky (2) vs. Gonzaga (19) [Gonzaga has a schedule  2 points per game stronger]: Gonzaga turned it on in the final minutes of the night on Thursday and put Akron away with a quick spurt.  Western took control quickly in their game against Illinois and then held off the Illini at the end.  While the Hilltoppers advanced to the Sweet 16 last year, while Gonzaga went home early, we feel the Bulldogs are poised to make the trip to the next round this year.

 

Predicition: Gonzaga 77 Western Kentucky 70

 

Michigan (-4) vs. Oklahoma (9) [Michigan has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: We can sum this game up in three words: Blake Griffin’s Health.  If Griffin is close to 100%, this game will be over Sooner than expected.  Michigan knocked Clemson out in the first round because the Tigers couldn’t shoot straight.  Oklahoma won’t miss all those open shots and second-chance shots.  Michigan will have to hit close to 50% of their shots to stay in this one and connect on 8 or more treys.  If Griffin isn’t at full strength, then this game becomes much closer and moves toward being a tossup.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 72 Michigan 63

 

West Region

 

Connecticut (12) vs. Texas A&M (2) [Connecticut has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: We certainly hope UConn head coach Jim Calhoun is feeling much better, but we must begin to wonder if this could be his final year with the Huskies.  Maybe his players are beginning to think the same, and they want to make sure he goes out a champion.  It may or may not be the case, and they may or may not have the horses to go the distance, but the Huskies have enough in the tank to eliminate the Aggies.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 79 Texas A&M 73

 

Purdue (6) vs. Washington (9) [Washington has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]:  Purdue struggled with Northern Iowa, while Washington quickly dismissed Mississippi State.  We believe the Huskies will advance to the Sweet 16 to take on Connecticut in a game that will bring back memories for the fans and coaches of both schools.

 

Prediction: Washington 70 Purdue 60

 

Maryland (1) vs. Memphis (19) [Maryland has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: Was Memphis playing a weak schedule all year when they ran up such a far record?  Are they the most overrated team since all those consecutive Depaul teams that lost in the first round when they were ranked number one or two in the nation?  We think not.  They ran into a tough team in the first round.  Maryland played a fantastic first game against Cal, and they could easily play another great one against Coach Cal.  In what we believe will be one of the most exciting games of the entire tournament, we’ll stick with the team we are picking to still be playing on April 6.

 

Prediction Memphis 72 Maryland 71

March 17, 2009

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

PiRate Bracketnomics: 12 Teams Can Win It All

 

We hope you took time to read Tuesday’s Bracketnomics 505 course.  You need to read that first to understand the criteria used here at PiRate Central.

 

Using said criteria devised by our founder, we have isolated 12 teams capable of winning six games in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Unlike last year when there were four dominant teams, the dominance is diluted somewhat this season.  Last year, more than 10 teams could be immediately eliminated based on a negative R+T rating.  This season, only two teams (Mississippi State and Ohio State) fail to possess a positive R+T rating.  Thus, we will pick the Bulldogs’ and Buckeyes’ opponents to beat them.

 

Here is a look alphabetically at those 12 teams who best meet the criteria showing they are capable of going all the way.

 

Connecticut: The Huskies outscore their opposition by an average of 13.3 points per game.  They shoot 9.3% better than their opponents.  They own a rebounding margin of 8.4.  Their R+T is 7.6.  In most years, this would be good enough for a Sweet 16 berth and possible Elite 8 run.  This year, it is good enough to get them to the title game.  The Huskies will win their first game by as many as they want.  They will win game two rather easily.  In the Sweet 16, they could run into a bump if they face Washington, but they will clobber Purdue if the Boilermakers make it to Glendale, Arizona.  An Elite 8 match against either Missouri or Memphis will be a tough and exciting game.

 

Duke: The Blue Devils outscore their opposition by an average of 12.2 points per game.  They shoot only 1.8% better than the opposition, and that is their one weakness.  They out-rebound their opponents by 3 and have a 4.4 turnover margin, so they usually benefit with more scoring attempts.  Their R+T of 12 is good enough to get them through the first two rounds.  In the Sweet 16, they will face either UCLA, Villanova, or Virginia Commonwealth.  The Blue Devils would be expected to beat any of these three, but it wouldn’t be a cinch.  The Bruins also make this list.

 

Kansas: The defending National Champions are considerably weaker this year, but in a season where the NCAA is weaker, the Jayhawks have a shot at getting to Detroit.  Kansas outscores its opponents by 11.3 points per game.  They outshoot them by 9.1%, which is one of the best in the Dance.  They have a 7.3 rebounding advantage.  Their weakness is in turnover margin.  They don’t commit a bevy of turnovers, but they don’t force many this year.  That could hurt them if they face a team that can steal the ball.  Syracuse and Missouri exploited them in regular season victories.  A trip to the Sweet 16 is expected, but I think they could be in for a big shock in their first round game with North Dakota State.  It may take 36 minutes for KU to put this game away.  If they face Michigan State in a regional semi-final, the Jayhawks should win a tough, physical game.  Louisville might be too much to handle in an Elite 8 regional final.

 

Louisville: Rick Pitino has taken Providence and Kentucky to the Final Four.  Last year, he came close with UL.  This year, it looks like the Cardinals have the horses to make it to Detroit.  UL outscores their opposition by 12.3 points per game.  They shoot 5.8% better than their opponents.  They have a 2.5 rebounding advantage, a 2.7 turnover margin, and they average 9.3 steals per game.  Their R+T is 8.5.  Except for scoring margin, none of the other stats are dominant, but then again all of them are really good.  They have no weaknesses.

 

Memphis: Memphis wouldn’t normally qualify because they are not a member of one of the big six conferences.  However, the Tigers’ schedule was as strong as teams like Wake Forest and UCLA.  Just like last year, Memphis has what it takes to play six games in the tournament.  The Tigers outscore their opponents by 17.2 points per game, which qualifies them for elite dominance.  They shoot 8.1% better than their opposition.  Their rebounding margin is 6.2, and their turnover margin is 3.3.  They average 8.8 steals per game, and their R+T rating is a whopping 13.2.  This is a team that should cruise to the Elite 8, and then we would favor them over Connecticut.  Missouri could be a tough out in the Sweet 16, but the Tigers fit the criteria of a national champion.

 

Missouri: Coach Mike Anderson was an assistant at Arkansas when the Razorbacks made won the national title in 1994 and made it to the finals in 1995.  His Missouri Tigers play the same 40-minute, full-court game that Arkansas played in those days.  These type of teams can make up for so-so rebounding with exceptional turnover margin by way of steals.  The Tigers are a force to be reckoned with this year.  Missouri outscores their opponents by 14.6 points per game.  They outshoot them by 5.7%.  While they barely win the battle of the boards by an average of 0.4 per game, their turnover margin is 6.5, and they average a tournament best 10.6 steals per game.  With an R+T rating of 16.9, Missouri gets many chances to go on scoring runs.  In tight tournament games, as little as an 8-0 run in two minutes is enough to decide the game.  We like MU’s chances of winning their first two and getting to the Sweet 16.  They will have to face Memphis, and they will meet a team that can neutralize the press.  Although we believe Memphis will win and move on to the Final Four, Missouri just may be the toughest competition Memphis faces before Detroit.

 

North Carolina: We see the Tar Heels joining Memphis in Detroit.  UNC has the second best looking criteria after Memphis.  The Tar Heels outscore their opponents by an average of 17.4 points per game.  They shoot 6.5% better than they allow.  Their rebound margin is 7.3, and their turnover margin is 3.2.  The Heels average 8.5 steals per game, and their R+T is 13.8.  Their path to the Final Four is the easiest of any of the 12 teams listed here.  Radford will be little more than a scrimmage against the Tar Heel scrubs.  Neither LSU nor Butler has what it takes to beat them in round two.  Gonzaga could compete for a long time, but the Tar Heels would eventually overpower them.  In the region finals, UNC would handle Oklahoma, Clemson, Syracuse, or Arizona State.  The only thing that could keep the Tar Heels out of the Final Four is the injury to Ty Lawson.  If he can play up to his normal standards, we just cannot see another South Regional team beating them.

 

Pittsburgh: The Panthers defeated Connecticut twice but lost to Louisville.  They should be able to beat almost any team that tries to play physically against them, but they could run into trouble against fast teams that can score in transition.  Pitt outscores their opponents by 13.3 points per game.  They shoot 7.3% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin of 9.8 is awesome, and their turnover margin of 1.1 further allows them extra scoring chances.  They average 7.1 steals per game, and their R+T rating is 11.7.  This is a team very capable of making it to Detroit.  They will handle East Tennessee with ease in round one and give their regulars ample rest.  Their round two game is going to be interesting, as both Tennessee and Oklahoma State have the necessary tools to aggravate the Panthers (much like the way Louisville did).  We still believe Pitt can get by either team and make the Sweet 16.  Their four possible Sweet 16 opponents do not have the skills to beat them, so if Pittsburgh gets to the Sweet 16, they will advance to the Elite 8 as well.  A regional final game against Duke would be a terrific game with both teams having a 50% chance of winning.  Ditto is they face Villanova, but the Panthers have revenge on their side in a match against the Wildcats. 

 

U C L A: This edition of Bruins is nothing like the last three editions in the Big Dance.  This UCLA team looks more like one of the Bruin teams from the Gary Cunningham/Larry Farmer/Walt Hazard years.  UCLA outscores their opponents by 12.7 points per game.  They shoot 4.9% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin is 3.8, and their turnover margin is 3.6.  They steal the ball 8.4 times per game, and their R+T is 11.1.  Much like Louisville, the Bruins don’t really dominate in any phase, but they are really good in all phases.  As a 6-seed, they are not expected to make it past the field of 32, but it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if Ben Howland guides them back to the Elite 8.  Their first round game against VCU should be nip and tuck for a long time.  VCU won’t be able to rebound against them, and the Bruins should get enough offensive boards to win.  In the second round, we believe UCLA can upset Villanova.  They won’t get by Duke if they must play them for a trip to the Final Four, but an Elite 8 appearance would be a great accomplishment in a rebuilding season.

 

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are the third ACC team with a good shot of advancing deep into the tournament.  Wake outscores their opponents by an average of 11.1 points per game.  They shoot the ball 9.3% better than they allow.  Their rebounding margin is 6.  Their 0.2 turnover margin is basically nil, but they do average 8.5 steals per game.  Their R+T rating is just 6.4 due to the fact that they tend to become turnover prone occasionally.  The Demon Deacons received a favorable draw for the opening weekend.  We see them moving on to the Sweet 16, but they will face a Louisville team that just may be too much in the third round.  It should be a great game.

 

West Virginia: This team looks much like many of Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati teams.  The Mountaineers are the polar opposite of the team that made a run under former coach John Beilein.  They are a dark horse team to make a deep run.  WVU outscores their opponents by 10.8 points per game.  They only outshoot those opponents by 1.1%, and that will eventually be their downfall.  They own healthy rebounding (5.9) and turnover (3.6) margins.  They average just 6.8 steals per game, but their R+T rating is 11.8.  This team will fly under the radar, but the Mountaineers could upset Kansas in the second round.  If they can upset the Jayhawks, West Virginia has the horses to make it to Detroit.  They lost twice to Louisville, by six and three points, so they can even upset the Cardinals given a third chance.  We give WVU a 45% chance of beating Kansas and a 33% chance of advancing to the Elite 8.

 

Predictions For Bracketeers

 

This is a pressure-filled year for us.  How can we match the success of our founder?  Hopefully, we can do so by carefully following his theories and data.  Plus, we talked to him, and he endorsed our picks.

 

So, here goes.  In the East, three Pittsburgh, Duke, and UCLA all score 14 points in the criteria.  Duke and Pitt have stronger schedules, so we will call for the Blue Devils and Panthers to meet in the Elite 8.  We give a slight edge to Coach K’s troops, but that is almost negligible.  We do not see the East Regional winner winning the national championship.

 

In the South, North Carolina is overpowering.  The Tar Heels have no rival in this bracket.  Second seed Oklahoma and third seed Syracuse do not qualify for a spot in the top 12.  Fourth seed Gonzaga does qualify, and we will pick the Bulldogs to be the only team capable of stopping the Tar Heels.  We give Gonzaga a 15-20% chance of winning in this probable regional semifinal game.  North Carolina should then dispose of the East Regional Champion and advance to the title game.

 

In the Midwest, top-seed Louisville will have to dispose of defending champ Kansas to make the Final Four.  Fourth-seed Wake Forest cannot be ignored here.  Six-seed West Virginia can compete with anybody in this region, making the Midwest the strongest region overall.  We’re going to go with Huggy Bear and his West Virginia Mountaineers to sneak into the Final Four.

 

Memphis should emerge in the West, besting Missouri and then Connecticut in Glendale, Arizona.  The Tigers will then take care of business in the Final Four semifinal round to take on North Carolina.

 

In the National Championship Game, we look for Coach Cal to finally get his championship trophy.  We are picking Memphis to make up for their final minute lapse in the 2008 Championship Game and win the title this year.  It could be the start of a major dynasty, as the Tigers have an awesome group of recruits coming in for 2010.   

 

The Stats On All The Teams

 

When you see a stat in bold, it meets the minimum amount to qualify for an exceptional stat.  When you see it also underlined, it strongly meets the qualifying amount.  When it is also in italics, it is a dominating statistic.  Strength of Schedule (SOS) is used solely when pitting one team against another.

 

Team

Pts

FG%

Reb

TO

Stl

R+T

SOS

Akron

7.0

1.9

-0.9

4.1

7.7

6.7

48.91

Alabama St.

6.1

7.5

1.2

-0.8

5.6

0.1

40.46

American

6.1

7.2

2.9

0.4

5.4

3.4

46.85

Arizona

3.8

3.9

2.5

-0.7

6.0

1.5

56.79

Arizona St.

9.4

7.3

1.7

0.6

5.9

2.5

56.35

Binghamton

3.4

2.9

-1.6

1.5

7.0

0.9

46.95

Boston College

4.4

2.3

2.9

-0.8

6.2

1.7

55.16

B Y U

12.7

8.5

4.2

2.5

7.2

8.5

54.62

Butler

10.2

5.7

3.3

0.9

6.1

4.6

53.15

Cal St. Northridge

3.8

3.7

3.6

-0.4

9.0

2.7

48.83

California

6.7

4.5

2.3

0.5

4.9

2.9

56.00

Chattanooga

0.8

0.6

3.3

-1.1

6.3

1.6

49.33

Clemson

10.8

3.5

1.6

2.9

9.4

8.1

56.07

Cleveland St.

7.2

2.6

0.6

3.5

8.7

7.9

52.27

Connecticut

13.3

9.3

8.4

-0.6

5.8

7.6

57.42

Cornell

9.8

6.4

3.1

0.8

6.7

4.4

45.31

Dayton

6.0

3.2

5.3

1.0

6.3

6.8

53.19

Duke

12.2

1.8

3.0

4.4

8.5

12.0

60.86

E T S U

8.6

6.2

1.5

2.5

8.5

6.6

46.28

Florida St.

4.1

4.6

0.7

0.3

8.5

1.3

58.22

Gonzaga

17.6

12.0

3.6

3.9

7.5

10.6

53.21

Illinois

8.0

6.6

0.1

1.3

5.8

1.9

57.56

Kansas

11.3

9.1

7.3

-0.8

6.9

6.0

58.01

Louisville

12.3

5.8

2.5

2.7

9.3

8.5

58.80

L S U

9.4

4.2

5.6

4.2

7.6

13.3

53.66

Marquette

8.5

0.5

1.7

3.6

7.9

8.5

55.87

Maryland

3.0

0.5

-1.6

3.2

7.7

4.3

58.11

Memphis

17.2

8.1

6.2

3.3

8.8

13.2

55.82

Michigan

4.1

-1.1

-3.1

2.4

6.5

0.6

58.74

Michigan St.

9.0

4.1

9.9

-0.2

6.4

9.6

59.48

Minnesota

5.4

4.4

2.4

0.6

8.4

3.6

56.65

Mississippi St.

6.0

4.3

-0.7

-0.8

7.0

-2.0

55.62

Missouri

14.6

5.7

0.4

6.5

10.6

16.9

56.31

Morehead St.

3.1

2.3

8.0

-2.5

6.7

4.0

48.59

Morgan St.

5.3

2.2

3.9

2.0

6.6

7.1

44.96

North Carolina

17.4

6.5

7.3

3.2

8.5

13.8

58.00

North Dakota St.

12.2

4.0

4.5

2.2

7.1

8.2

45.05

Northern Iowa

4.2

3.6

3.1

-0.9

4.2

2.2

53.53

Ohio St.

5.1

7.5

-1.0

0.1

5.9

-0.9

57.80

Oklahoma

11.4

9.1

5.6

-1.1

6.9

3.8

57.78

Oklahoma St.

6.9

1.4

-1.1

2.8

7.7

4.1

59.57

Pittsburgh

13.3

7.3

9.8

1.1

7.1

11.7

59.27

Portland St.

5.5

0.3

0.9

0.7

7.5

2.2

45.45

Purdue

10.3

5.8

-0.3

3.5

7.2

5.7

57.48

Radford

5.1

7.2

6.9

-2.8

6.8

2.3

47.63

Robert Morris

5.7

5.1

1.7

0.7

8.6

3.1

46.18

Siena

7.6

3.7

-0.5

3.8

8.8

7.5

54.68

USC

4.9

6.8

5.5

-1.1

6.3

3.8

58.04

Stephen F Austin

10.3

7.2

1.4

2.8

6.1

5.5

46.99

Syracuse

8.8

7.5

2.2

-0.6

8.0

1.0

59.39

Temple

5.6

4.2

3.1

-0.8

5.6

2.0

56.16

Tennessee

6.1

1.5

4.6

1.8

6.7

7.5

60.50

Texas

6.8

3.6

4.7

1.3

6.2

6.6

56.58

Texas A&M

5.4

1.5

5.3

-0.3

5.0

4.9

55.77

U C L A

12.7

4.9

3.8

3.6

8.4

11.1

55.06

Utah

7.2

7.5

4.9

-3.2

5.0

1.1

57.90

Utah St.

10.8

7.8

7.0

-0.7

4.9

6.2

51.00

Villanova

9.5

5.3

4.1

2.1

8.0

8.1

57.30

Virginia Common.

8.6

6.6

-0.6

1.9

7.6

2.9

51.94

Wake Forest

11.1

9.3

6.0

0.2

8.5

6.4

55.29

Washington

9.3

3.8

8.4

0.1

7.6

8.6

58.08

West Virginia

10.8

1.1

5.9

3.6

6.8

11.8

58.84

Western Kentucky

5.4

1.5

4.8

0.1

5.7

4.9

51.41

Wisconsin

5.4

0.1

3.0

1.4

5.0

4.7

58.28

Xavier

10.0

7.4

8.4

-2.2

5.4

5.5

55.89

 

Round One Games

(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

 

East Region

 

#1 Pittsburgh (14) vs. #16 East Tennessee (6) [Pitt has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]:  This game will be over quickly.  Pitt will dominate inside and put this one away in the first 10 minutes.  It could be a 20-point margin before halftime. 

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78 East Tennessee 56

 

#8 Oklahoma State (0) vs. #9 Tennessee (6) [Tennessee has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]:  These teams are similar, but Tennessee has just a little more talent than the Cowboys.  The Volunteers should win the battle of the boards by five or more, and the two or three extra offensive put-backs should decide this game.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 82 Oklahoma State 77

 

#5 Florida State (0) vs. #12 Wisconsin (2) [Schedule strengths are equal]: 12-Seeds are the ones that tend to draw the most attention at first round upsets.  Part of the reason is because 12-seeds are usually the last bubble teams to make the tournament.  Frequently, they are quite a bit better than their seeding.  This doesn’t apply in this game.  Wisconsin is lucky to be an invitee.  The reason the Badgers have a 50-50 chance of winning this one is the fact that Florida State isn’t a dominating ACC team.  They rely on one big scorer, and they win games by one to six points.  The winner of this game will be going home after the next one, and we’ll go with the Badgers to win a close one.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 68 Florida State 66

 

#4 Xavier (8) vs. #13 Portland State (1) [Xavier has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Xavier would have qualified among the big dozen if they had a positive turnover margin.  The Musketeers don’t have the tools to advance to the Elite 8 and will only crack the Sweet 16 due to a weak second round opponent.  This Portland State team is nowhere near as talented as last year’s team.  That team had a chance to compete, while this years Vikings will know they are done by halftime of this game.

 

Prediction: Xavier 79 Portland State 62

 

#6 U C L A (14) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth (3) [UCLA has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: VCU is one of those pesky teams that can throw an opponent off its game.  Coach Anthony Grant may be on his way to a big time job after this game.  UCLA will be able to sneak up on opponents in this tournament.  The Bruins didn’t win the Pac-10 title this year, but they have the talent to still be playing in April.  After a beginning that could be ugly, look for the boys from Westwood to get their balance and cruise to a double digit win.

 

Prediction: UCLA 75 VCU 65

 

#3 Villanova (9) vs. #14 American (2) [Villanova has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Villanova just barely missed out on being included in the top 12.  The Wildcats are not far behind Louisville, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh in the Big East.  VU has no weaknesses, but they are not as strong across the board as Louisville.  American won both the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles.  This is their second consecutive trip to the tournament, and they enter riding a 13-game winning streak.  They are better than average in every important aspect, but the Eagles’ strength of schedule is not strong enough for that to matter.  They played three good teams this year and lost to all by an average of 23 points.

 

Prediction: Villanova 74 American 55

 

#7 Texas (3) vs. #10 Minnesota (1) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Neither of these teams is going to advance past the opening weekend.  Texas is above average but not great in every aspect.  There are a dozen NIT teams that could beat the Longhorns.  Minnesota isn’t much better.  The Gophers pick up more steals, but they don’t capitalize on them with quick scoring bursts.  We’ll take Texas in a close game, but the Longhorns will not advance farther than one round.

 

Prediction: Texas 72 Minnesota 66

 

#2 Duke (14) vs. #15 Binghamton (-1) [Duke has a schedule 14 points per game stronger]: This won’t be like Duke’s first round game in 2008, when they had to sweat out a last second shot attempt by tiny Belmont.  Binghamton has little inside game, and that’s what it will take to beat Duke.  The Blue Devils will wear down the Bearcats and pull away to a lopsided victory.  They could lead by 35 to 40 points before emptying the bench.

 

Prediction: Duke 91 Binghamton 63

 

South Region

 

#1 North Carolina (17) vs. #16 Radford (3) [North Carolina has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: Radford can score a lot of points.  They don’t have much depth, and we can see them keeping this game close maybe until midway through the first half.  After that, we look for the Tar Heels to go on a big run and put the game away before halftime.  Don’t be alarmed if UNC doesn’t win by 30 or more points.  Remember, they barely beat James Madison in the opening round one year when they advanced to the title game.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 94 Radford 77

 

#8 L S U (14) vs. #9 Butler (7) [LSU has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: As 8-9 games are supposed to go, this game should be close with numerous lead changes.  Earlier in the year, Butler won at Xavier, while LSU lost at home to Xavier.  The Tigers know they are facing a team that could easily beat them.  They just barely missed qualifying for a spot on the 12 best teams.  Butler was better last year, but the Bulldogs are no pushover.  LSU will be extended to the end, and the Tigers will be fortunate to escape with a victory.

 

Prediction: LSU 73 Butler 69

 

#5 Illinois (4) vs. #12 Western Kentucky (2) [Illinois has a schedule 6 points per game stronger]: This Western Kentucky team is about 10 points weaker than last season’s Sweet 16 team.  However, the Hilltoppers couldn’t have asked for a better #5 seed to face in the first game.  This one has the look of another 12-seed upset, but we will select the Illini to hold off a tough rally.

 

Prediction: Illinois 61 Western Kentucky 58

 

#4 Gonzaga (19) vs. #13 Akron (3) [Gonzaga has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: If Gonzaga were in the Pac-10 and had the identical stats they have this year, we would place them in the Final Four.  This is probably a better team than the Adam Morrison team a few years back.  The ‘Zags finished the season marching through the opposition like Sherman marched through Georgia.  In their final seven games, Gonzaga won all seven by an average score of 84-56!  Akron isn’t a bad team.  The MAC conference tournament champs might be favored in a first round game in other years, but they are going up against the North Carolina of the mid-majors.  Better luck next time Zips.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 80 Akron 67

 

#6 Arizona State (4) vs. #11 Temple (0) [Schedule strengths are equal]: Arizona State lost four of its final seven games, while Temple won 10 of its last 12 including the Atlantic 10 Tournament title.  Even though the Sun Devils own a better criteria score, we believe Temple should be a slight favorite in this game.  Temple should control the boards in this game, and we expect a game with many missed shots.  Offensive rebounding should decide this one.

 

Prediction: Temple 64 Arizona State 58

 

#3 Syracuse (4) vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin (8) [Syracuse has a schedule 12 points per game stronger]: Be warned! This game could be a nail-biter.  Syracuse will not be fully recovered from the Big East Tournament.  They may never fully recover the rest of this season.  SFA is not a pushover, as judged by their criteria score.  Their strength of schedule does not merit making them an upset favorite.  They could keep this one close.  However, being their first tourney appearance, the players will be tight at the beginning of the game.  Syracuse may not bring their A-game, but it will be enough to win.  Don’t expect the Orangemen to score 80 points in this game, but then again, don’t expect the Lumberjacks to get many second-chance scoring opportunities. 

 

Prediction: Syracuse 69 Stephen F. Austin 59

 

#7 Clemson (9) vs. #10 Michigan (-4) [Michigan has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: John Beilein’s West Virginia team is the only Elite 8 team to fall through the PiRate cracks in recent years.  This Michigan team plays much like that one, but the Wolverines are not yet as good.  Michigan tries to limit possessions and win by hitting a lot more three-pointers than they give up.  It is a good gimmick when you don’t have superior talent.  We just don’t see it working in the Big Dance.  Their criteria score is -4, which is the worst of the 63 teams that have a positive R+T rating.  Clemson was a better team in 2008, and that Tiger team fell to Villanova in the first round.  We expect the Tigers to get over the hump and win their opening round game this year.

 

Prediction: Clemson 77 Michigan 66

 

#2 Oklahoma (9) vs. #15 Morgan State (4) [Oklahoma has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: Oklahoma would have qualified for a spot in the top 12 if they had a positive turnover margin.  When they face a team that forced turnovers, the Sooners are going to have a rough time.  Missouri and Oklahoma State beat the Sooners in the last two weeks, and both of those teams are ball-hawking squads.  Morgan State is not capable of forcing Oklahoma into a bevy of turnovers, so OU is safe in the opening round.  Sooner fans should root like crazy for Michigan to beat Clemson, because the Tigers are a lot like Missouri and Oklahoma State.

 

Prediction: Oklahoma 79 Morgan State 65

 

Midwest Region

 

#1 Louisville (10) vs. #16 Morehead State (1) [Louisville has a schedule 10 points per game stronger]: These two teams met in December with UL winning by 38 points.  The Eagles are much better than they were three months ago, but not 38 points better.  Louisville will get a light workout in this game, and that will keep them fresh for round two.

 

Prediction: Louisville 76 Morehead State 49

 

#8 Ohio State (DNQ) vs. #9 Siena (5) [Ohio State has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: Here is what looks like a mild upset in the making.  Ohio State is one of two teams that fail to qualify due to a negative R+T rating.  What that means is the Buckeyes give up more scoring opportunities than they get.  Think of a major league baseball team that wins 90 games in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs but gives up one more hit per game than themselves while hitting an average amount of home runs.  That team won’t go far in the playoffs.  Siena won an opening round game in last year’s tournament, and this Saints’ team is better this year than last year.  Siena stands a 55-60% chance of winning this game.

 

Prediction: Siena 74 Ohio State 70

 

#5 Utah (3) vs. #12 Arizona (-2) [Utah has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: The winner of this game won’t be advancing much further.  Arizona really shouldn’t be here.  Almost every major conference team and more than half of the mid-major teams in the NIT could beat Arizona.  Utah won 11 of their final 13 games, and the Utes should make it 12 of 14.  However, don’t expect any deep runs like in the Rick Majerus or Jack Gardner days.

 

Prediction: Utah 68 Arizona 63

 

#4 Wake Forest (12) vs. #13 Cleveland State (7) [Wake Forest has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: Cleveland State deserves their seeding.  The Vikings defeated Butler and won at Syracuse during the season and played competitive games at Washington and at West Virginia.  Wake Forest qualifies as one of the super 12 teams, and they will have a tougher time with CSU in the opening round than they will have with either Utah or Arizona in round two.

 

Prediction: Wake Forest 69 Cleveland State 62

 

#6 West Virginia (16) vs. #11 Dayton (5) [West Virginia has a schedule 6 points per game stronger]: West Virginia is the top dark horse in our criteria.  We believe they can advance to Detroit.  Dayton is a solid team and can hold their own on the glass against the Mountaineers.  We believe the game will be decided by turnovers.  WVU will force three to five more and capitalize on that differential with five to eight points.  We will add a little more to the difference by believing Dayton will put West Virginia at the line several times in the closing minutes and fail to score quickly at their end.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 74 Dayton 65

 

#3 Kansas (10) vs. #14 North Dakota State (10) [Kansas has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: North Dakota State is making an appearance in the Big Dance in their first year they are qualified.  Their criteria score is a little misleading, as they have a rather weak strength of schedule.  The Bison may give the Jayhawks a battle through a couple of TV timeouts, but KU will go to the locker at the half up by at least eight and pull away in the second half.

 

Prediction: Kansas 81 North Dakota State 59

 

#7 Boston College (-2) vs. #10 Southern California (2) [Southern Cal has a schedule 3 points per game stronger]: This should be an interesting and entertaining game.  The winner should be out of the tournament one round later.  Trying to pick a winner in this game is a pure crap shoot.  Boston College beat North Carolina and lost to Harvard.  USC started 10-3, then lost 9 of 15, and then won five in a row, including three consecutive Pac-10 Tournament victories over NCAA Tournament teams.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal 73 Boston College 70

 

#2 Michigan State (7) vs. #15 Robert Morris (2) [Michigan State has a schedule 13 points per game stronger]: The Spartans should make it to the Sweet 16, but we just don’t see any Big 10 team winning an Elite 8 game this year.  Robert Morris must rely on one star in Jeremy Chappell.  The Colonials don’t rebound well, and MSU will play volleyball on the offensive glass. 

 

Prediction: Michigan State 76 Robert Morris 54

 

West Regional

 

#1 Connecticut (12) vs. #16 Chattanooga (-1) [Connecticut has a schedule 8 points per game stronger]: We pity the poor Mocs.  They are going to be the victims of one of the two most lopsided opening round game.  UConn will dominate this game from start to finish.  Chattanooga will be lucky to lead this one 2-0 at the start, because it could easily be a game where the Huskies hold the Mocs scoreless to the first TV timeout and lead by double digits by the time Chattanooga scores.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 98 Chattanooga 63

 

#8 B Y U (13) vs. #9 Texas A&M (2) [Texas A&M has a schedule 1 point per game stronger]: This looks like another excellent tossup game, but our criteria show it to be a one-sided affair.  BYU would belong in the top 12 if they had played a stronger schedule.  The Cougars do everything well; they outscore their opposition by 12.7 points per game.  They shoot 8.5% better than their opponents.  They control the boards by more than 4 per game and force 2.5 more turnovers per game than they commit.  The Cougars just haven’t beaten a big time team.  Texas A&M owns victories over four major teams in the Dance.  That makes it the tossup game it is supposed to be.

 

Prediction: BYU 74 Texas A&M 69

 

#5 Purdue (6) vs. #12 Northern Iowa (-1) [Purdue has a schedule 4 points per game stronger]: The Boilermakers split their final 10 regular season games before finding their stride in the Big 10 Tournament.  Northern Iowa is in the Dance because they can edge Illinois State every time they face off.  Illinois State won’t be on the schedule until next season, so NIU can begin looking forward to next season after this game.  Don’t expect Purdue to still be around next week.  This is going to prove to be another weak year for the Big 10.

 

Prediction: Purdue 71 Northern Iowa 60

 

#4 Washington (9) vs. #13 Mississippi State (DNQ) [Washington has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]: The Pac-10 regular season champions take on the surprise winner of the SEC Tournament.  MSU is one of two teams that do not qualify due to a negative R+T number.  It’s hard to imagine that with Jarvis Varnado in the lineup, the Bulldogs still have a slight negative rebounding margin.  They also have a negative turnover margin and didn’t play that tough of a schedule.  Washington won’t have to travel far from Seattle to Portland, and the Huskies should win this one by more points than most people expect.

 

Prediction: Washington 81 Mississippi State 66

 

#6 Marquette (9) vs. #11 Utah State (10) [Marquette has a schedule 5 points per game stronger]: Marquette would definitely be included in the top 12 if Dominic James were not out for the season.  Prior to his foot fracture, MU was a Top 10 team capable of making a run to the Final Four.  Without him, they really should be a double digit seed.  Utah State is one of the handful of mid-majors capable of making a run to the Sweet 16.  The Aggies will have trouble against an aggressive, pressing team, but Marquette isn’t one of those teams.  This game is actually a tossup.  With no partiality to an in-state team, we’re going with Marquette to survive a toughie.

 

Prediction: Marquette 70 Utah State 65

 

#3 Missouri (14) vs. #14 Cornell (5) [Missouri has a schedule 11 points per game stronger]: Missouri has the talent to make a deep run in this tournament.  Any team that has trouble facing pressure defense is going to find itself in a heap of trouble.  The Tigers are the best pressing team in the Big Dance and the only team averaging double figure steals per game.  If Mizzou gets 12 steals in a game, they are going to score 20 or more points off those steals.  That is a mighty stat for an opponent to overcome.  Cornell is not as good this year as they were last year when they won the Ivy League with ease.  This team has no signature wins, and they lost by double digits to all three NCAA Tournament teams on their schedule.

 

Prediction: Missouri 82 Cornell 58

 

#7 California (1) vs. #10 Maryland (1) [Maryland has a schedule 2 points per game stronger]:  On paper, this game looks like an exciting game.  We consider it the most mediocre game of the opening round.  One of these teams will advance to the Round of 32 and become fodder for Memphis.  Cal will win the battle on the boards, but Maryland will not beat themselves with unforced errors.  The Terps beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in the last month, while Cal has been a sub-.500 team since mid-January.

 

Prediction: Maryland 71 California 67

 

#2 Memphis (19) vs. #15 Cal State Northridge (-1) [Memphis has a schedule 7 points per game stronger]: Not only is Memphis coming into the tournament playing its best ball of the season, the Tigers enter the Dance with a chip on their shoulders.  They deserved a number one seed, and now they will take it out on their next opponent or maybe next six.  The Matadors lost to Cal State Bakersfield as well as some other teams with an RPI well down the list.  Memphis has won 25 games in a row, and the Tigers are the real number one team in our book.  At the point when Coach Cal removes his top eight players from the game, the Tigers may have yielded less than a point per minute in this game.

 

Prediction: Memphis 83 Cal State Northridge 47

 

Coming Friday, a look at Saturday’s games.  Sunday’s game previews will run Saturday.

Bracketnomics 505–The Advanced Level Class In Bracket Filling

Bracketnomics 505-The Advanced Level Class In Bracket Filling

This is a graduate level class that will earn you a Masters in Bracketnomics.  So you want a scientific method to guide you as you fill out your brackets?  You say you want a system that will take out most of the human-bias, and allow you to pick your teams in a mechanical fashion.  Well, we’ve got one for you that has been back-tested and holds up fantastically through the years. 

What the inventor of the PiRate system did was to discover the vital information that has worked in the past.  He’s been using this formula since the Internet made statistics-gathering easy, and it has been back-tested as far back as the days when the NCAA Tournament field consisted of just 23, 24, or 25 teams.

This method will not pick every game correctly and make you an instant millionaire.  It is geared toward finding the tendencies that historically have mattered most in picking the teams with the best chances of advancing.  Not all teams will be a perfect fit in this formula; what this formula does is pick the teams that have the best chance of advancing and making a deep run into the tournament. 

How has the formula performed in recent years?  Last year, it picked Kansas to win the NCAA Championship.  In 2006, it tabbed George Mason as a team to watch to sneak into the Elite 8 (they went to the Final 4).   It correctly selected Florida and UCLA for the Final Four in both 2006 and 2007. 

There have been a couple of seasons where the criteria didn’t apply successfully, but over the course of the 50 seasons, it has performed accurately about 43 times.  Without further adieu, here is the PiRate Bracket-Picking System.

1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams outscoring opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and that team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance deep into the tournament.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores their opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

In the days of the 64/65-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row.  This average gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they aren’t going to win four games much less two.  This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years.  Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64/65-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  Nowadays, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  If you see a team shoot better than 48% and allow 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back to the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance deep into the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams don’t always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive putbacks are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage.  Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but over the course of four rounds, it is rare for one of these teams to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margin is the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds. 

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones who will get that spurt.

The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %).  Here is the PiRate R+T stat: R + (.2S * {1.2T}), where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.  When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.  When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated before the Sweet 16.

5. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

I’m sure up to this point you have been thinking that it is much easier for North Dakota State or Siena to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Pittsburgh or Michigan State.  Of course, that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that the top conferences get extra weight, while the bottom conferences get penalized.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at cbs.sportsline.com.  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

These are the five basic PiRate criteria used for the last dozen or so years.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others.  However, it can also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation, or the type that get into the Dance.  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive putbacks.  As explained earlier, the offensive putback is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big five stats.

Free Throw Shooting 

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls.  For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75.  So, a team with one of the top FT% only scores nine more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That looks like a lot of points to make up, but consider that this is about the maximum possible difference.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that also have the top R+T ratings.  Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently got there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win isn’t going to be around after the first weekend.

One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that got to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, that will be a harder one to defend and one that will be consistent.  It’s hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this week. 

Now, here is a way to put numbers to the criteria.  It isn’t exactly the way our founder did it every year, but it is a close approximation.

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

Completely eliminate from consideration all teams with a negative R+T

6. Schedule Strength

Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiple it by 100.  For example, Team A with an SOS of .5252 has a schedule 7 points weaker than Team B with an SOS of .5921.  If these two teams face each other, give the Team B an extra 7 criteria points over Team A ([(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7).

If you want to compile all this information yourself, the best way is to go to all 65 official athletic websites of the teams in the Big Dance.  You will find up-to-date statistical information.  Some of these stats are available in other places, but many have been found to be riddled with mistakes, or they are not up-to-date.  All 65 school sites are accurate and timely.

Coming tomorrow (Wednesday), we’ll reveal which teams belong in the later rounds by virtue of having the best criteria scores.

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