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Archive for April 6th, 2008

Domination by elite teams becoming more regular

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 6, 2008

If you took the time to listen to me blab on that New York guy’s radio show back in February, you might remember me saying that the reason the NCAA Tournament is so spectacular is that you get a wild first couple of rounds (complete with unexpected upsets), but by the time you get deep in the tournament, the cream has risen to the top and the heavyweights duke it out for the ultimate prize.

Although there weren’t a ton of early upsets this year coupled with a surprising number of blowouts, this obviously has become the ultimate example of that with four No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four. This continues a recent trend of a handful of national powers making up the bulk of the tournament’s final weekend (table courtesy of John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus; more on him in a second):

Snootiest Final Fours
1985 to Present

       Avg. Seed
2008     1.00    (North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, Kansas)
1993     1.25    (North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas)
2007     1.50    (Florida, Ohio State, Georgetown, UCLA)
2001     1.75    (Duke, Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland)
1999     1.75    (Connecticut, Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State)
1997     1.75    (Kentucky, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona)
1991     1.75    (Duke, UNLV, North Carolina, Kansas)

Gasaway explores this phenomenon, and what might explain it, which I found highly interesting. He chalks it up to the freshmen, and their opportunity to contribute not just because of the forced year in college, but because of the voids left by other early defectors. I think that only partly explains it. After all, North Carolina and Kansas don’t have any of those heralded freshmen — they’ve got deep squads filled with guys who are very good, but not quite good enough to make that jump so fast.

My take? It all comes down to how many athletes a team has. It’s a tall order to win six games in a row (or even the four in a row it takes to get to the Final Four), and teams are going to have an off performance somewhere in there. Supreme athleticism — while no guarantee of success (hello, Kansas State and USC) — allows very good teams to overcome games in which they perform below their normal level. Memphis had Mississippi State, UCLA had Texas A&M, Kansas had Davidson.

Speaking of Davidson, I think my theory applies there, as well, despite their No. 10 seed and “mid-major” status: It took some superhuman efforts by Stephen Curry for the Wildcats to get as deep as they did. Without Curry — a good athlete who somehow got missed by the ACC — there is no possibility of the Elite Eight.

As a side note, if you like what we do here with statistical analysis, you’ll love what they do at Basketball Prospectus, and you ought to be reading it regularly.


Posted in Around the 'Net, Breakdowns, NCAA Tournament | 1 Comment »

Bracket Challenge, semifinal leaderboard

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 6, 2008

Well, just one game to go, and we’ve got a logjam at the top of the leaderboard. Four — four! — brackets currently are tied for first place, and if Memphis wins tomorrow, it will stay that way.

Some interesting things have emerged as we approach the championship. First, it appears most of us had a little bit of Pac-10 bias: 14 (of 23) brackets picked UCLA as the champ. Other interesting tidbits:

  • None of us picked both championship participants correctly.
  • Nobody picked Memphis to win the Tournament.
  • Just three people picked Kansas to win it all.

Since so few people picked Kansas and no one picked Memphis, most of the standings are locked in where they are. “Morgan Knows” and “CliftonParkNYInterloper” have a chance to tie for first with a Jayhawk win, while “WSU HOOPS” (not my bracket — I wish!) would jump all the way from 11th to third.

The rest of us are pretty well stuck, which isn’t all bad, at least for me. After a truly pitiful start, I’ve made a comeback to respectability by being a model of consistency: I scored 16 points in every round but the first to ascend to eighth place. Weird.

Posted in Bracket Challenge, NCAA Tournament | Comments Off on Bracket Challenge, semifinal leaderboard