Monday, March 16, 2009

East Region Breakdown

Most likely 11+ seed to win a game: You can make a good argument for Portland State knocking out Xavier, but the pick here has to be Wisconsin. This Wisconsin/FSU game reminds me so much of the Drake/WKU game last season. Intuitively, FSU seems like the heavy favorite for the same reason that Drake seemed like a great pick last year, because they just seem like they're a horrible match-up for their opponent. Drake looked so experienced and savvy last year, and they were so well-coached, that they seemed like a great Cinderella pick. And similarly, FSU seems like an awful match-up for Wisconsin. Wisconsin has the most trouble with long, athletic teams that press defensively, and they're also weak at defensive rebounding while FSU is wonderful at offensive rebounding. And as much as the idiot analysts on ESPN are calling this a match-up between Wisconsin's defense and Florida State's offense, it's actually Wisconsin with the better offense, and Florida State with the better defense. I don't see how Wisconsin stops Toney Douglas without fouling Trevon Hughes out of the game. But all of that said, the numbers scream that this is an obvious upset. First of all, the best 12 seeds to pick are the ones from major conferences, and Wisconsin was already the best 11 seed before the Selection Committee dropped them to a 12 for scheduling purposes. And both Pomery and the Sagarin PREDICTOR have Wisconsin as the better team. Last year I went with Drake because I trusted my intuition over the numbers. I learned my lesson. This year I'm going with the numbers, and as silly as it seems to me I'm picking Wisconsin.

Most likely 6+ seed to make the Sweet 16: This region is so good that there are a number of great choices. The winner of Texas/Minnesota will have a great chance against Duke. And even the winner of Oklahoma State/Texas will have an excellent shot knocking out Pitt in the second round. Even Wisconsin will have a great shot against Xavier (whoever you pick to win the Wisconsin/FSU game, I'd pick them in the second round over an overrated Xavier team). But I'm going with UCLA, for the same reason I picked Wisconsin: the numbers. They are rated the 9th best team in the nation by both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and their big problem all season long has simply been motivation. If seems like they've spent all season long spotting their opponents 15 points to start the game, and if they can ever get out to a quick start they're going to be extremely dangerous. Villanova is a good 3 seed that has been very good away from home, but UCLA is an absurdly dangerous 6 seed (even more dangerous than West Virginia) that will have a great shot to pull the upset.

Most likely 3+ seed to win the region: I'm going with UCLA here again, for the reasons above. I don't see Xavier or Florida State having any shot at winning this region (just look at their terrible computer numbers), and in fact the next most likely 3+ seed to win the region might be 7th seed Texas. Both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR rate UCLA as the third best team in this region, and there's a chance that both the 1 & 2 seeds might be taken out early in this region, for reasons that I'll get to in a moment. Don't count UCLA out of not only making the Sweet 16, but making it back to the Final Four for a remarkable fourth straight season.

Conclusions: The East region is by far the toughest region. You've got a very good 1, 2 and 3 seed, as well as what I would argue is the best 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15 and 16 seed. The depth in this region is astounding, and there's no way that the Selection Committee should have a region this good with another region that is so bad (the south region). There's no question in my mind that this was an artifact of the Selection Committee needing to play mental gymnastics to keep teams from the same conference from playing before the Elite 8, which is why I'm calling for them to allow teams from the same conference to play in the Sweet 16.

I see five teams that have a legitimate chance to win the region: Pitt, Duke, Villanova, UCLA and Texas. One thing to keep in mind is that as good as Pitt and Duke are, they are also highly flawed. Pitt is a deceptively thin team, and they will have trouble even getting out of the second round if Levance Fields isn't completely healthy, or if DeJuan Blair fouls out. They really, really struggle when either of those two players are out. Meanwhile, as much Tournament success as Coach K has had, and as good as they've looked since Gerald Henderson made himself the star and Elliot Williams joined the starting lineup, they still have struggled in the Tournament over the last two years. They are vulnerable to large, athletic teams. And even with the emergence of Henderson, they are still dependent on three-pointers that have had a tendency to fall less often away from Cameron Indoor. Now throw in the fact that you've got a really dangerous 7 seed in Texas, and two outstanding teams in the 8/9 game, and both the 1 and 2 seed will have a problem in the second round. If Pitt survives the second round, they should actually have an easier opponent in the third round, but they will struggle against whoever comes out of the bottom half, be it Duke, Villanova, UCLA or Texas.

In addition to being the toughest overall region, this is the toughest region to pick. I see a remarkable 11 teams that have a great shot to go to the Sweet 16 (all of the top 12 seeds other than VCU), and of course five teams with a great shot to win the whole region (Pitt, Duke, Villanova, UCLA and Texas). If you can nail this region you're in great shape.


eddietsunami said...

Dude you put a lot of time into that! What will you write about when this is all over?

Anyway I filled out my bracket today and picked Michigan State to go all the way!

Jeff said...

Thanks. I didn't intend on putting this much time in so early in the week, but I'm getting a ton of visitors looking for help with their brackets, so I felt the need to provide them with information as early as possible.

As soon as the Tournament is over I'll have the 2009-10 previews all up. My standard procedure is to have all of the conference previews, as well as the preseason BP65, all up within a week of the National Championship game. That's probably what is going to absorb a ton of my time while I'm watching the games these next three weeks.

redhawks said...

I like some of your picks and like the upsets, but I don't think you allowed momentum into your picks enough. A team with good momentum always has a decent shot at going far. Louisville is playing great basketball right now and T-Will is putting on a show. I also think Gonzaga has the depth and experience to go all the way, same with North Carolina. And I'm not trying to be crazy here but Arizona State making the final four is a real big stretch. I like how Temple has been playing and Dionte Christmas is a star. I don't discount them in the first round against a streaky ASU team.

Jeff said...

Matt, I understand your point, but I have yet to see any statistical evidence that's true. I haven't seen any evidence that teams that have good conference tournament runs have good NCAA Tournament runs. In fact, if anything, it's the opposite. The teams that make the Final Four and win the National Championship tend to be teams that lost in their conference tournaments. And teams that go on big runs in their conference tournaments tend to flame out early in the Tournament.

Now I'm not saying that this is certain, that you should absolutely bet against the teams that went on big conference tournament runs, but I can offer you a good reason: The Selection Committee gives big rewards to teams that play well in conference tournaments, and so you get teams that are seeded several spots ahead of where they should be based on the full sample size. When a team is seeded too highly they're due to lose early. Especially since momentum isn't going to carry across different tournaments over different weeks.

I'll give you a perfect example: Syracuse. In 2006 they were a Bubble team and went on a miracle run to take the Big East tournament. Suddenly they have a 5 seed, even though they aren't any better than the 9-12 seeds. No surprise they lost in the first round to Texas A&M. Another example from that same year is Iowa, that got a 3 seed after taking the Big Ten tournament and then flamed out in the first round to Northwestern State. This year you've got a Syracuse team that should be a 6-8 seed, and instead got a 3 because of their Big East tourney run. But they're no better than the other 6-8 seeds when you look at the full resume. So they shouldn't be expected to play any better than a 6-8 seed. Same goes for a Louisville team that got a 1 seed even though they're not as good as Memphis, Michigan State or even Oklahoma (if they can rediscover their play from before the Griffin injury).

Too often people are blinded by the seeds in their bracket. They see a team with a "3" next to their name, and project a certain expectation onto them. People will look at a Syracuse with a "3" different from a Syracuse with a "6", even though it's the same team. One trick that I employ is to visualize what a team should be seeded, rather than what they are seeded.

One thing I'm always stressing is not to just assume that the higher seeds are better. That's what leads people to stupid decisions like "I don't have any 12 seeds winning and I should pick one... how about this one?" No, pick upsets because you think the team is better, or because you think that the teams are close enough that with the psychological edge you think they'd win more than 50% of the time.

Even if you think that momentum carries over from the conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament (and again, I've never seen any evidence that it does), those conference tournament performances are already built into their seed. So they won't outperform their seeds any more. At best, a team like Syracuse will live up to its seed. They won't exceed expectations.

Anonymous said...

Some of your comments seem inconsistent to me. I don't disagree with the idea that conference champions are likely upset victims when they receive too high a seed just because they had a good weekend. But at other points you talk about teams that played well at the end of the season, and I think that IS very important in determining who will do well in the NCAAs. How do you reconcile those different viewpoints? Assuming that performance at the end of the season is important, what would you look at to determine who is playing the best ball at the end of the year?

Jeff said...

DMoore, first I wanted to congratulate you on Maryland. Good call there on one that I missed.

As for your question, I don't think I said anywhere to choose a team because they're on a roll. What I'm saying is that you've got some teams that have played better over the past few weeks because something has changed - for example, Purdue getting healthy, or Duke switching up their lineup and letting Gerald Henderson run free.

But that's different from teams that simply get on streaks and win a couple of straight games at a conference tournament. These are teams that get in a groove, and for a few straight games play better than they really are.

My point is that those streaks rarely (if ever) carry over to the Tournament. UConn isn't any less likely to make the Final Four because they got bumped off early in the Big East tournament. Same for UNC. The fact that Louisville is playing better over the past couple of months than they did in November and December is something to take into account when filling out your bracket. But their streak in the Big East tournament is irrelevant. So it's not like you should pick them to overachieve their seed in the Tournament because they've won the Big East tournament - the Big East tournament win is already built into the seed.

That was the point I was trying to make. Do you agree or disagree?