Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bracket Lesson #3: Tough Vs Easy Draws

I hinted at draw strength in this post. When picking teams in later rounds, you can't just look at the individual match-up. You have to look at how tough each team's path was, even though you already picked them to win those games. The fact is that every match-up is a probability game, and you want the highest probability of winning your bracket competition. Let me give you an example.

Let's say you think Team A has a 60% chance of winning in the first round against Team C, Team B has a 90% chance of winning in the first round against Team D, and you think Team A has a 60% chance of beating Team B head-to-head. To be comprehensive, let's assume that you think that both Team A or Team B would be overwhelming 100% favorites in the second round against Teams D & C, respectively.

By that math, Team A has a 38% chance of making the Sweet 16. Team B has a 72% 58% chance of making the Sweet 16. So even though you think Team A is a clear favorite head-to-head against Team B, you should pick Team B over Team A in your bracket.

Obviously I made up a very extreme example, but the point still stands. You have to take into account path difficulty. If you think a team has a really tough first and second round opponent, be very cautious of picking them in the Sweet 16 over a team that should have a couple of walkovers.

To help you out I'm going to tell you which 1-6 seeds I think have the easiest and hardest paths:

Easiest Draws:

Easiest 1 seed draw: Pittsburgh: You can make the argument for Kansas here, but I like Pitt's path. Kansas will have a tougher second round opponent, and the bottom half of the Southeast Region is a joke. Florida as a 2 seed? BYU as a 3? The biggest test for Pitt might be Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, simply because the deliberate Wisconsin style matches up well, but Wisconsin has to get there first and has a brutal 13 seed opponent. Pitt could end up playing Utah State or Belmont in the Sweet 16, honestly.

Easiest 2 seed draw: San Diego State: San Diego State was given a gift. First of all, they have a really soft 7/10 game (both Temple & Penn State made my "overrated" list). Then they are seeded against the second softest 3 seed (UConn). And honestly, I might end up picking the 6 seed (Cincinnati) to take out UConn in the second round anyway. And then San Diego State gets their Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Anaheim in the West Regional. If they face Duke there they'll have effectively a homecourt advantage.

Easiest 3 seed draw: BYU: The Mountain West all around got a generous draw. BYU probably deserved a 4 seed instead of a 3, and they were given the easiest 3 seed draw. They avoid the 14 seeds that scare people (Indiana State and Bucknell), then get the second weakest 6 seed (St. John's) and by far the weakest 2 seed (Florida). With a tougher draw I could have seen myself picking BYU to go out in the first round because they've been awful the past two weeks. But with this draw I might have to take them all the way to the Elite 8.

Easiest 4 seed draw: Louisville: Louisville was given the weakest 13 seed (Morehead State) and a relatively weak 5 seed (Vanderbilt). And there's a good chance that Vanderbilt will get taken out in the first round by Richmond anyway. If they get to the Sweet 16 they'll likely have to play Kansas, but all of the 1 seeds are strong this year, so that's not unique.

Easiest 5 seed draw: Arizona: I thought about taking Kansas State here, but in the end I'm going with Arizona. Certainly Arizona has a very tough second round opponent (Texas), but I'm putting Arizona here because they're the only 5 seed that has a relative walkover in the first round in Memphis. To put it in perspective, Arizona's first round opponent (Memphis) is rated 85th by Pomeroy, while Kansas State's first round opponent (Utah State) is rated 16th. Arizona's second round opponent (Texas) is rated 4th, which makes them a tougher opponent than Kansas State's second round opponent (Wisconsin, rated 9th), but that's not enough of a margin. I'm giving the edge to Arizona. But like I said, all of the 5 seeds have brutal paths. Don't put any of them in your Final Four.

Easiest 6 seed draw: St. John's: This was an easy pick. St. John's has a fair 11 seed (Gonzaga), but they've got by far the weakest 3 seed (BYU) and by far the weakest 2 seed (Florida). If you threw a team like Cincinnati or Georgetown (assuming Chris Wright comes back) in this position I'd pick them to go the Elite 8. I'm down on St. John's, however, and despite this easy draw I don't see them getting that far.

Toughest Draws:

Toughest 1 seed draw: Ohio State: No question. Remind me again why teams want to be the #1 overall seed? Who cares if you get the weakest 16 seed? This is the second consecutive year that the overall #1 seed has gotten by far the toughest region. Now, I don't think Ohio State's region is as bad as the region Kansas got last year, which I think may have been the toughest region ever assembled, but this region is still killer. Ohio State is going to get a really good opponent in the second round, then the best 4 seed (Kentucky) and a brutal Elite 8 opponent, be it North Carolina or Syracuse.

Toughest 2 seed draw: North Carolina: You can tell I'm going to be picking a lot of East Region teams in my "toughest draws" section. North Carolina should score about 130 points against LIU in the first round (that game's going to be a track meet), but they have a really, really tough 7 seed in Washington. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Washington as one of the 15 best teams in the nation, and UNC could have them as a second round opponent. If they get to the Sweet 16 they could have to play Syracuse, the team which is probably the second toughest 3 seed (Purdue is the toughest). And if they get to the Elite 8 they'll likely play Ohio State or Kentucky. To me, UNC is a long shot Final Four team, honestly.

Toughest 3 seed draw: UConn: I'm actually leaving the East region to note UConn's path. UConn has the best 14 seed (Bucknell) and the best 6 seed (Cincinnati). And if they get to the Elite 8 they'll likely have to play San Diego State, a very deserving 2 seed that is rated the 5th best team in the nation by Sagarin, and 6th by Pomeroy. I've already said that I expect UConn to under-perform in the NCAA Tournament anyway, so this draw makes it easy on me.

Toughest 4 seed draw: Texas: You can make the argument for Kentucky here. But I think Oakland is a tougher 13 seed than Princeton, and Arizona is at least as good of a 5 seed as West Virginia, and Arizona is much less likely to get taken out in the first round. And if Texas gets to the Sweet 16 they'll get Duke.

Toughest 5 seed draw: West Virginia: Back to the East region. West Virginia will be rooting for UAB, because if Clemson gets through the play-in game then they'll be a very difficult team to beat in the first round. And if West Virginia survives that? Their reward is a Kentucky team that was given a 4 seed but was rated as one of the 8 best teams in the nation by both Sagarin and Pomeroy even before they slaughtered Florida earlier today. And if they somehow get past that? They get Ohio State, the best team in the country. Even if you're the biggest West Virginia homer, don't pick them in the Elite 8. Do yourself that favor.

Toughest 6 seed draw: Xavier: I'll look at the match-up closer, but I don't even think they're getting out of the first round. Marquette is a very good 11 seed, and I've already talked about how when picking 11/6 and 12/5 upsets, you want to pick major conference teams to upset mid-majors. And even if they survive that game they'll get a tough 3 seed in Syracuse. And if they get past that? UNC and Ohio State are still in their way. That's brutal.


Justin said...

What are your thoughts on Missouri and possibly beating UConn or do you even see them getting past Cincy? I also have Marquette going far, even possibly beating Syracuse. Finally, what are the statistics of a lower seed going to the final four such as a 10 or even 11 seed?

Jeff said...

An 11 seed has made the Final Four twice. We had that George Mason run in 2006, and LSU did it 20 years earlier.

Only eight times in the 26 years of the modern bracket, however, have seeds worse than a 6 seed made the Final Four. So a team worse than a 6 makes it only once every four years.

This should be good year for it, though, with so much parity. There really is very little gap between the 2 and 6 seeds this year.

Sam said...

I think you added some numbers up wrong or something, in your example scenario for taking first round opponents into consideration, since it appears that teams A and B will combine to reach the Sweet 16 110% of the time. I ran the numbers(Correctly, I hope) based on the scenario you described.

Second Round Scenarios

AvB - 54% of second round games will be this

A wins 60% - 32%
B wins 40% - 22%

BvC - 36% of second round games will be this

B wins 100% - 36%

AvD - 6% of second round games will be this

A wins 100% - 6%

4% of the time CvD second round

A makes S16 38% of the time
B makes S16 58% of the time

Might have done that wrong, but yeah.

Sam said...

Also, I don't know if I agree with you're describing Kentucky as the best 4 seed. Texas is 4th by Pomeroy and Sagarin Predictor, which seems to me to at least warrant a discussion. Even just to say that Barnes will get out-coached would be enough.

Jeff said...

Thank you for correcting that math. Sorry about that error.

And Kentucky as the clear best 4 seed is my personal opinion. They are a very young team that has gotten progressively better throughout the year, while Texas has faded a little bit. I know what the computers say, but in my opinion Kentucky is clearly better.

And like you said, has any coach historically had less success in the Tournament with more talent than Rick Barnes?