How the stats would’ve picked this year’s (theoretical) 2020 NCAA Tournament

MIDWEST REGION (Indianapolis, IN)

The bracket:

The odds, per Bart Torvik:

Robert Morris is an easy favorite; NC State and Richmond offer almost the exact same rating, so very little would change either way.

The storylines:

  • The big one here is obviously the potential Kansas/Michigan State Elite Eight game. These teams were ranked #3 and #1 in the preseason, respectively, and many, many people picked this as the eventual national championship game. For it to happen in the Elite Eight would be pretty wild, no?
  • Rutgers is here! And they’re favored to win a game!
  • Upsets? Probably. The odds expect about 1.3 of the top six seeds here to lose in the first round, with BYU and Iowa being the obvious candidates. However, check out that unusually low 82.8% number for Michigan State. It’s not because MSU is a bad 2 seed – they rank 7th on KenPom – but because Texas State is an unusually good 15 seed. They ranked 93rd on KenPom and even higher on Torvik.
  • Other various storylines: how far can offense-first BYU go? An astounding six of the ten best offenses in college basketball are in this bracket – how many points will be scored? Can Kansas make good on it being the best team in college basketball for most of the last two months?

Below is how my statistical guidelines would have picked every game, starting with…

Round of 64

(16) Robert Morris over (16) Jackson State. I can’t imagine that you’re in a pool that picks First Four games ever, but if you are, Robert Morris would’ve been an eight-point favorite, so pick Robert Morris. You did get to see some Snacks content, at least.

(12) Richmond over (12) North Carolina State. Richmond would’ve been about a 0.3 point favorite, so this would’ve gone either way, but admittedly, it’s the funnier result given NCSU fans and their Kevin Keatts hesitancy.

(1) Kansas over (16) Robert Morris, obviously.

(9) Rutgers over (8) Marquette. Over the last 20 years, the 9 seed has only been favored by KenPom in 23 of the 80 8/9 matchups…but they’re 15-8 in those games. This would’ve been Rutgers’ first NCAA Tournament win since 1983.

(12) Richmond over (5) BYU. I hate this, but we’re going by the rules. 5 seeds with less than a two-thirds shot to make the Round of 32 – AKA, 66.6% – are only 16 of 39 at making it (all others 33 of 41). BYU would’ve been in the range of a 64-65% favorite. In my subjective bracket, I’m taking BYU, but these are stats, and regrettably, we must take the cursed Spiders.

(4) Oregon over (13) Western Kentucky. 4 seeds generally lose a game in the Round of 64 about two out of every three Tournaments. However: 4 seeds that are 80% or higher to win their R64 game are 31-1 since 2000. Oregon’s at nearly 83%, so we feel good about this.

(11) Utah State over (6) Iowa. I don’t love this…but it makes sense. I would’ve advised you to bet against any 6 seed that’s at 54% or worse to win, as they’re an astounding 4-16 since 2000 (all others 42-18). Iowa was in the 54-55% range, which likely would’ve meant going for it.

(3) Creighton over (14) North Dakota State. Creighton’s at around 88-89% to win. No 3 seed with 85% or better odds to win their Round of 64 game has lost (36-0; all others 36-8). Easy.

(7) Virginia over (10) Arizona State. 7 seeds favored to win their Round of 32 game are 43 of 56 in doing so (all others 5 of 24), and 7 seeds with 60% or better odds to win are 27-5 (all others 21-27). Virginia’s just over 60%.

(2) Michigan State over (15) Texas State. This could easily be another MTSU situation, though. However: I never, ever submit a bracket where I pick a 15 seed. The risk is way too high.

Round of 32

(1) Kansas over (9) Rutgers. What a storyline! This is one of about one times in history where everyone is rooting for Rutgers. That said: 1 seeds at 70% or higher to make the Sweet Sixteen are 49 of 55 in doing so.

(4) Oregon over (12) Richmond. This was really tough, because neither Oregon nor Richmond meet the guidelines I’m looking for. That said: 12 seeds generally need to be at 17% or higher to be a worthy Sweet Sixteen bet, and Richmond was at 14%.

(3) Creighton over (11) Utah State. Boring, obviously, but Creighton’s at 60-61% to make the Sweet Sixteen, and 3 seeds at 57% or better to make it are 20 for 26.

(7) Virginia over (2) Michigan State. This is a terrible pick that is indefensible. And yet: 2 seeds worse than 63% to make the Sweet Sixteen are just 18 for 44 in doing so. Virginia is far from an ideal pick, but they do have an amazing defense and are at about 21-22% to make the Sweet Sixteen. 7 seeds at 20% or higher to make the Sweet Sixteen are 14 for 38; all others are 4 for 42. It’s at least an educated guess.

Sweet Sixteen

(1) Kansas over (4) Oregon. 1 seeds with 55% or better odds to make the Elite Eight are 33 of 40 in doing so (all others 21 of 40).

(3) Creighton over (7) Virginia. This is where you could’ve picked either UVA or MSU, because I would’ve taken Creighton either way. 3 seeds at 31% or better to make the Elite Eight are 16 of 24 in doing so (all others 7 of 56). It’s the same logic that would’ve given you Texas Tech and Purdue picks last year while telling you to avoid the other 3 seeds.

Elite Eight

(1) Kansas over (3) Creighton. This was tough. Kansas is below my personal 46% threshold for automatic 1 seed advancement, and Creighton was above the 15% line for making it. That said: 1 seeds at 33% or better to make the Final Four are 27 for 43. 3 seeds at 15% or better: 9 for 21. Gotta play the odds.

Final tallies: 2 Round of 64 upsets, 1 Round of 32 upset.

NEXT PAGE: West Region

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