Sunday, March 16, 2008

Talking 5/12 And 6/11 Games

I want to briefly link back to my 6/11 game analysis from 2007, and my 5/12 game analysis from 2006. To save you some reading, I'll go through the conclusions and how they apply to this year's games:

#5 vs. #12 games:

The most likely #5 seeds to get upset are the mid-major and small conference teams. The only choice this year is Drake, although I'm a bit loathe to call the Missouri Valley a mid-major conference. Even though they are, I don't think that Valley fans, players and coaches view themselves that way. And since this is all about player psychology, I wouldn't necessarily say that this analysis encourages you to pick Drake for a first round exit (especially since I think Drake was under-ranked as a #5 seed - they should have been a #3 or #4).

The most likely #12 seeds to pull upsets are major conference teams. Small conference teams are actually more likely to pull upsets than mid-majors, so that points to George Mason (surprise, surprise) as a good potential team to pull a first round upset. This also points to Villanova as a potential upset-puller.

So, who SHOULD you pick for an upset, if you have to choose one? It's between George Mason/Notre Dame and Villanova/Clemson. To me, nobody is going to fool around with George Mason again, and I think Clemson might come in a bit over-confident after making the ACC Championship Game. So, I'd say Nova over Clemson. But a quick caveat is that you have to be careful about how the upsets that you pick will resonate in the future rounds. For reasons I'll get to later, you've almost got to pick Vandy to go out before the Sweet 16. So if you go with Nova then you're probably committing to putting a #12 seed through to the third round... are you prepared to do that? It probably depends on your bracket scoring system.

Who SHOULDN'T you pick for an upset? Temple over Michigan State. Drew Neitzel is finding his stride right now, and Michigan State is just such a tough team to play in the Tournament in general. Tom Izzo teams always over-achieve in the Tournament, and opponents (especially mid-major opponents) really struggle with their size. In my mind, Michigan State is a sleeper Final Four team (although I'll get to that in a later post).

#6 vs. #11 games:

The first lesson here is not to get too over-eager, because #11 seeds actually win their first round game less often than #12 seeds. They don't have as much of a psychological advantage. In the first round, #6 seeds are much more likely to win if they come from major conferences, and the same holds for #11 seeds. Also, don't bet on #11 seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen, because it's very rare. But meanwhile, do bet on #6 seeds to win another game Over the past 16 years, 47 #6 teams made the second round, and they went 27-20 in their second round game. So, on average we should expect two #6 seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen - a pretty remarkable statistic.

So, who SHOULD you pick for a first round upset?
Kentucky, Baylor and Kansas State are all major conference teams. Baylor will be playing with a chip on its shoulder because it will be called the last team in by a lot of people (always bet on the team that is universally decried as a team that should have missed the Tournament). But Kansas State will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, too, based on the fact that they were given such a lousy seed compared to what they probably would have expected. To pick which of those teams to select, the tie-breaker has to be their first round opponent, which I'll get to in a moment.

Who SHOULDN'T you pick for a first round upset?
They're all major conference teams, so there's nothing that can be concluded there. But since only one of them gets a mid-major or small conference opponent (Oklahoma), that's who I've got to go with here.

If I'm going to choose between Kansas State/USC and Baylor/Purdue, I think I'm going with the latter match-up. Purdue is a very, very young team, and they have struggled in tense, high pressure situations. They have played their best ball when nobody has expected them to win (like when they shocked Wisconsin at the Kohl Center). They have struggled when they've been expected to win (like against Illinois, in the Big Ten Tournament), so the most likely upset for me is Baylor over Purdue.

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