Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.14 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.40 PM

Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

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Examining Elite Eight Profiles: Who Looks Poised to Go Deep Into March?

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on January 8th, 2016

As conference play heats up, the identities of teams become increasingly apparent. As we invariably figure those teams out, we also start thinking about which teams are poised to make a run in March. To take a deeper view of postseason success, we looked at the KenPom statistical profile of five years of Elite Eight teams (perhaps a little arbitrary, but it’s hard to sneak into the national quarterfinals without being actually good) and compared it with this year’s teams that currently fit that profile. In the past five years, Elite Eight teams have ranked an average of 18th in offensive efficiency and 31st in defensive efficiency. Offense is clearly more important, as only two teams in the last three seasons have managed to crack the quarterfinals from outside of the offensive top 40 (both of which, coincidentally, were Louisville). The table belows shows the 10 teams this season that fit the Elite Eight profile as of January 8.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 11.56.33 AM

If your favorite team is not on the above list, it appears that it still needs work. Let’s examine some of those missing teams, many of which are highly-ranked.

Teams that Must Improve Defensively

Purdue. The Boilermakers’ dream season has taken a couple of recent hits in losses to Butler and Iowa. What should worry Matt Painter, though, is that during the four-game stretch that included wins over Vanderbilt and Wisconsin in addition to those two losses, Purdue never posted an offensive efficiency that was above the Division I average. The team ranks first in defensive efficiency but is only 41st on the other end of the floor. Rick Pitino’s recent Louisville teams have shown that it is possible to advance in the NCAA Tournament on the strength of defense alone, but it’s generally easier to get there by finding greater balance with the offense.

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The First Four Doesn’t Need to Leave Dayton, But Maybe It Should

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 20th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The first thing I think of when reading, writing or listening to anything having to do with the “First Four” is the NCAA’s frustrating semantical insistence that it be referred to as the “First Round.” Technically speaking, it is the first group of games qualified NCAA Tournament teams play, but to imply First Four teams and the other 64 all enter the Tournament needing to survive a “first round” – whether by playing games or not, which is what everyone except First Four teams do – is a confusing mischaracterization casual fans and writers alike could do without. We know what the real first round is, so let’s give it its proper nominal recognition. Sorry, First Four teams, but you can’t merely waltz into a spot in the first round of the NCAA Tournament; you need to earn your way there by winning your – gasp! – play-in game.


Until the NCAA resolves that issue, I will have trouble looking past any non-branding-related First Four storylines. Today, I’m making an exception. Numerous reports from Dayton Friday brought word that the NCAA rejected the city’s proposal to extend its First Four hosting rights beyond 2015. Dayton, as you probably already know, has hosted the event since its inception, including back when it only involved two teams and was called, whether formally or not, the one and only play-in game. Twelve years later, the NCAA appears to be exploring alternatives. Or maybe it just has commitment issues. The Dayton Business Journal got NCAA spokesperson David Worlock on the record:

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New Initiative For Seeding Should Create More Stability Within The Madness

Posted by BHayes on August 2nd, 2013

The college basketball news of the day on Thursday came from Ron Wellman, Wake Forest AD and current chair of the Division I men’s basketball championship committee, when he outlined significant criteria changes for how the NCAA Tournament will be seeded in the future. The new method will be put in place immediately for the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and while the change may not be as drastic as say, a 96-team field, it should have a meaningful and productive impact on the dear old event we know and love.

Brandon Davies And BYU Rejoiced After Their Comeback Victory Over Iona In 2012's First Four, But They Were The Only Team Since 2007 To Slip Two Seed Lines As A Result Of Bracketing Issues Elsewhere

Brandon Davies And BYU Rejoiced After Their Comeback Victory Over Iona In 2012’s First Four, But They Are The Only Team Since 2007 To Slip Two Seed Lines (To A #14) As A Result Of Bracketing Issues Elsewhere

Quickly, here’s the nitty-gritty: Conference foes who have only met one time during the season (conference tournaments included) can now play each other in the round of 32; if conference-mates have already played twice, their earliest possible NCAA match-up will come in the Sweet Sixteen. Finally, if teams have played three times throughout the course of the year, it won’t be until the regional finals that they are allowed to rendez-vous for a fourth time. Additionally, the top four teams from a conference must now only be separated by region if they are among the top 16 overall seeds; in the past, only the top three teams from each league were separated, period. If you want the full breakdown from the committee, you can read its press release here.

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Rejoice: The NCAA Tournament As We Know It Is Unlikely to Change

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 30th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Nothing means more to college basketball fans than the NCAA Tournament. It is hallowed territory. The one three-week period of the year where college basketball dominates the national sports conversation. The best postseason of any sport in any country on any planet in any universe. Even pretentious NBA fans who typically spurn the college game for 11 months of the year – besides the sliver of college action they forcibly consume on YouTube clips leading up to the draft – usually tune in when March rolls along. As far as sports competitions go, there’s nothing better. So when talks of a new NCAA division surfaced across various football media days over the past couple of weeks, and the Tournament’s existing structure was thrown into the transformative discourse (right along with stipends and recruiting rules and bowl games and, ugh, yuck), it was fair to ask the question: Is the NCAA Tournament going to change? The short answer: probably not. I know, I know — I’m  just as relieved as you are.

We shouldn't see any changes to the Tournament's basic format or structure (US Presswire).

We shouldn’t see any changes to the Tournament’s basic format or structure (US Presswire).

There’s also little chance for significant change to the NCAA tournament. The one thing the NCAA does well is run championships, and unwinding the $10.8 billion CBS-Turner deal would be thorny. The most likely change will be in the NCAA governance structure, and while that isn’t particularly sexy, it’s still significant.

Those words come from Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel’s column last week, and while one informed column doesn’t close the door on Tournament revision completely, at the very least it allows us to move through this period of NCAA tumult with the confidence that our sacred postseason ball is mostly immune to the doomsday transformation that crept into our minds when initial reports surfaced. The existential fears of bracket change will never subside – and not just because of the oncoming changes within the NCAA’s divisional structure. The fears of a 96-team field, particularly with the possibility of athletes earning a cut of the NCAA’s television revenues through the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, will linger. But at least in the short term, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t appear to be changing. This is good news.

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More Fireworks in the Nation’s Capital? NCAA Selects Washington, D.C. as Last 2013 Regional Host

Posted by EJacoby on May 17th, 2012

The 2013 NCAA Tournament will be a milestone, marking the 75th all-time ‘Big Dance’ since Oregon won the first one in 1939. A lot has changed over the years, and it’s much harder to win the Tournament in its current 68-team format than it was for the Ducks in a total field of just eight schools then. In “a concerted effort to include cities with a rich history to help mark the milestone,” according to the new VP of NCAA Championships, Mark Lewis, the committee selected Washington, D.C. as the final host of the 2013 Regionals. The nation’s capital joins previously selected Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Arlington, Texas, as the four regional locations, with Atlanta hosting next year’s Final Four. The Verizon Center in DC has played host to several classic tournament games in recent history, and the NCAA hopes to recreate that magic next year.

George Mason Provided Fireworks in Washington, D.C. in 2006 (Washington Post)

“In the end, we think celebrating 75 years of one of the country’s favorite sporting events in our nation’s capital and a great basketball city is fitting,” said Lewis, whose committee’s decision came down to Syracuse, Brooklyn, Madison Square Garden (Manhattan), and the District of Columbia. It would have seemed fitting for MSG, the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” to have won on this criteria of rich history, but the arena faced scheduling conflicts with its priority tenants, the Knicks (NBA) and Rangers (NHL). The Verizon Center, while not nearly as historic a venue, is a more frequently-used arena for college games, serving as the primary home court for Georgetown and hosting a number of other games such as the BB&T Classic. The Hoyas will be the official host of this site and as such will be unable to play in that venue during next season’s Tourney.

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930 And You: The 2011 Tournament Under The New APR Rule

Posted by jstevrtc on August 17th, 2011

The new APR rule is a fact. 930 Or Bust is happening. So let’s talk about it.

On the ESPN blog last week, Diamond Leung, a gentleman we’re happy to file under Official Friend Of RTC, posted an article in which he listed the 12 teams that would not have been eligible to compete if the new APR standard had been applied to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. #1-seed Ohio State? Watching from home. Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State? Sorry, they’d have been studying for finals and not playing basketball. Leung also noted how eventual champion Connecticut would not be invited to the 2012 edition to defend its title since, according to the latest numbers, over the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic periods the Huskies managed an APR of just 893. They could go undefeated throughout the entire 2011-12 season and it wouldn’t matter. In that scenario they’d win as many NCAA Tournament games as Centenary.

Bill Carmody and Northwestern (18-13) May Have Been Dancing Last Year, Had the New APR Rule Been In Play

Mr. Leung’s article got us thinking: if there would have been 12 fewer teams in the Dance last March, who would have replaced them? Among the unlucky 12, seven were automatic qualifiers through conference tournament titles and five were at-large entries. A quick examination of who would have replaced the disqualified teams shows how putting a binary, all-or-nothing, you’re-in-or-you’re out emphasis on a specific number would have affected the Tournament; as you’ll see, the reverberations go deeper than just the aforementioned 12 teams.

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Coastal Carolina Takes A Couple On The Chin, But Still Fighting

Posted by jstevrtc on February 17th, 2011

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers have their work cut out for them.

Getting into the NCAA Tournament from the Big South is tough enough, considering the conference has never had more than one representative in The Dance at a time. You want in? You better win the postseason tournament. Winthrop has won nine of the last 12, bordering on a monopoly. National chatter about the Chanticleers, though, has been on the uptick throughout the latter part of the season, due to an impressive 20-game winning streak (22, if you include victories over a couple of D-III teams).

Greenwood's Absence Means Players Will Be Shifting Positions and Taking On New Roles at CCU, Not the Best Situation To Find Yourself In This Late In the Season

Unfortunately for CCU, Ohio State and Kansas weren’t the only teams to get knocked off of lofty perches over the past few days. We know what happened to OSU on Saturday at Wisconsin. And Kansas enjoyed the official #1 spotlight for mere hours on Monday before getting shelled at Kansas State. After the Chanticleers defeated rival Winthrop on Saturday, they owned the nations longest winning streak. Then Garnder-Webb came to town on Tuesday and put a stop to that with a 59-57 shocker over Coastal.

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Come Get Your RPIs, Fresh Out The Oven

Posted by jstevrtc on February 14th, 2011

The NCAA has just released the latest RPI data for D-I men’s basketball. Your top 10:

  • 1. Kansas
  • 2. BYU
  • 3. Ohio State
  • 4. Georgetown
  • 5. San Diego State
  • 6. Pittsburgh
  • 7. Duke
  • 8. Texas
  • 9. Notre Dame
  • 10. Purdue

Two teams really digging those latest rankings: St. John’s at 17, and George Mason at 23. The Patriots are the highest school from a non-Power Six conference. Get the full list of all 345 D-I teams from the NCAA right here.

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Answering That All-Important Question: What About My Bracket?

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

When the format of the new 68-team NCAA tournament bracket was announced back in July, we wondered exactly what type of effect this would have on our bracket pools. With just one opening round game in the past ten years (since the expansion of the tournament field from the sensible 64 teams to the odd 65 team field in 2001), that opening round game in Dayton was safely ignored by the vast majority of the college basketball fanbase. But when the NCAA announced that the First Four would not only include a couple of games between the four lowest-seeded automatic bid earners, but also two games between the last four at-large teams, ignoring the opening round games for bracket pools no longer seemed to be a viable option. With the odds of one of those final four at-large teams advancing not only past the opening round game, but then beating their higher seeded opponent in the second-round game (the Thursday/Friday set of games, which in the past was considered the First Round, but is now officially the Second Round) being fairly reasonable, we wondered how some of the larger online NCAA bracket pools would handle this situation. The early answer? Continue ignoring the opening round games.

Why Would We Ignore This?

“We’re not set in stone, but we’re leaning towards not using those opening round games, similar to what we’ve done in the past,” said Jason Waram, Vice President of ESPN Fantasy Sports. “Basically, the player would get both of those two teams (in the opening round game) for the price of one.” In other words, if you fill out your bracket prior to the completion of the Opening Round game, and you wish to select one of the participants in the opening round game to advance, say to the Sweet 16, you would get both teams. As an example, using RTC’s preseason bracketology projection of St. Mary’s/UCLA as one of the four opening round games, if on the Selection Sunday evening I wanted to fill out my bracket and pick UCLA to advance to the Sweet 16, I would get credit for a correct pick if either St. Mary’s or UCLA advanced to that round. If you were filling out your bracket after the completion of the opening round games, obviously those outcomes would be known so only the winner of that opening round game would be an available option.

Given that many casual college basketball fans who fill out an office pool are used to the tournament proper starting on Thursday morning, asking players to pick just four of the games early could have caused confusion for many.  “The current format is something that people have gotten used to,” said Waram. “There is a lot of analysis that goes on between Sunday night at 7 pm eastern time right up until tipoff on Thursday, so giving the users that same opportunity to use all of that time and to get their picks in while introducing them to what the new tournament format is going to be is important.” Given that ESPN wants as many people as possible to compete in these games, keeping the requirements of the players simple is a priority. “You want to keep the fan experience simple, keep it easy and keep it fun. And the more games that people have to pick and the shorter time that people have to pick those games, the more drop off there is going to be.”

CBS Fantasy Sports has confirmed that this is their working model as well. “Although our plans have yet to be finalized, the likely scenario is that won’t count any of the four play-in games,” said a spokesman. “If you fill out a bracket before those games are played, you will see both teams listed on the #16 seed line vs. the #1 seed.”  Both ESPN and CBS Sports are quick to point out that nothing is currently set in stone, but as of now, this is where they’re headed. “We’ll definitely re-assess where we are and what our colleagues within the industry do, and we’ll still talk about this as we lead up to the tournament; we’re not set in stone, but that’s definitely the way we’re going right now, to approach it like the opening round game from last year,” said Waram.

Don't Crumple It Yet -- Your Loser Might Make You a Winner!

The fact is, there is no really great solution to this problem. If you bump the deadline up until tipoff of the opening round game, you probably lose many of the casual college basketball fans who are used to having their office pool ready to go by Thursday morning. If the opening round games are merely optional, that adds a whole other level of complexity, not only to the programming of the game, but to the casual player’s perception of the bracket game. But is simply ignoring the opening round games a great solution? Of course not. To expand on our St. Mary’s/UCLA example above, if I pick UCLA to go to the Final Four, and they lose in the opening round game and their opponent miraculously advances to the Final Four, does it make any sense that I should get rewarded with a bucketful of points for essentially making an incorrect pick? This isn’t merely wild speculation, as George Mason, one of the last at-large teams to make the field in 2006 and awarded with an 11-seed, proved that it is possible for a bubble team to get hot and go on a deep run in the tournament. If the field had been 68 teams in 2006, GMU would almost certainly have been slated for one of those opening round games. Clearly, this solution is not the perfect one, but the fact is, as was the case when so many decisions were made regarding our beloved tournament over the past several months (the 68-team format, the makeup of the opening round games), this may just be the best of a bad set of choices.

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