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

South Region (Houston, TX)

The bracket:

The odds, per Bart Torvik:

The storylines:

  • Baylor! Can they do it? Uh…maybe.
  • This is either a surprisingly deep or a surprisingly weak region. Of the 16 teams in it, only Baylor ranks in KenPom’s top nine, with West Virginia ranking 10th. The 4 seed ranks 29th and the 6 seed 33rd, but the 7 seed is 19th and the 10 seed 34th.
  • The winner of Baylor-West Virginia has a 49% shot or so of making the Final Four. The bottom half of this region is very weak, with Maryland being the only team in the KenPom top 12.
  • Forbes vs. Pearl! Would the Selection Committee have placed Steve Forbes against his old boss, Bruce Pearl, in the first round? Maybe, maybe not. But I imagine they like good ratings.
  • Upsets are likely, though in odd spots. About 1.2 are expected in the Round of 64, with just 2.1 of the top 4 seeds expected to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Round of 64

(16) Siena over (16) North Carolina Central. Sizable favorite and top 150 in KenPom.

(1) Baylor over (16) Siena. The threshold of 5% of “this game will probably be interesting at some point” is broken here, and Siena actually cracks 6% to win. Baylor had significant stretches of play this season where they couldn’t buy a bucket (remember when they went nearly seven minutes without scoring against Texas?), and while Siena’s defense wasn’t good, they reasonably could’ve made this uncomfortable for a while.

(8) Saint Mary’s over (9) LSU. SMC is a very tiny favorite, though I wouldn’t have picked either in the Round of 32 anyway.

(5) West Virginia over (12) Yale. Boring! But 5 seeds with 70% or better odds to make the Round of 32 are 26 of 31 in doing so (all others 23 of 49).

(4) Kentucky over (13) Belmont. This game would have been a 1:1 allegory with 2010-11 Kentucky’s near-upset against Princeton. But I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger, as Kentucky beats out the 75% threshold for picking a 13 seed. If you were to pick a 13 seed to beat a 4 in this Tournament, it would have been this one, and I would’ve faulted no one for the pick.

(11) East Tennessee State over (6) Auburn. Protege over master! 11 seeds are 27-20 when 37% or better to win their game, and ETSU cracked 40%.

(3) Maryland over (14) Hofstra. Maryland almost cracks the pure safety of the 85% threshold.

(7) Arizona over (10) Indiana. 7 seeds favored to beat their 10 seed opponent are 43-13, and 7 seeds with 60% or better odds to win are 27-5.

(2) Florida State over (15) Northern Kentucky. This one would have been fun. Four of the five R64 losses by 2 seeds came when they were 89.1% or lower favorites. These teams are still 23-4, but the upper edge of this profile is littered with near-misses: 2010 Robert Morris (lost in overtime to Villanova), 2008 Belmont (lost by a point to Duke), 2014 Eastern Kentucky (led Kansas in second half).

Round of 32

(1) Baylor over (8) Saint Mary’s. 1 seeds at 70% or better to make the Sweet Sixteen are 49 for 55. 8 seeds have really needed to be at 11.7% or higher, and SMC was, but it’s only a 9 for 46 hit rate.

(5) West Virginia over (4) Kentucky. The 4 seed Kats were only at 33.9% to make the Sweet Sixteen, and no 4 seed has made the Sweet Sixteen when sitting at 34% or worse to do so. Even those up to 40% or worse are just 2 for 28.

(3) Maryland over (11) East Tennessee State. 11 seeds need to be at 17% or higher for us to pull the trigger. Not their year.

(7) Arizona over (2) Florida State. Same logic as the Villanova pick. 7 seeds at 30% or higher to make the Sweet Sixteen are 8 for 13; 2 seeds at 52% or lower are 1 for 13, and 57% or lower at 4 for 22.

Sweet Sixteen

(5) West Virginia over (1) Baylor. This is wild! But: West Virginia did beat Baylor in the regular season, meets the criteria for a 5 seed to make the Elite Eight (at least 17.5% odds). In fact, they’d have the fourth-highest odds in the last 20 years for a 5 seed to make it this far, even surpassing 2019 Auburn. (Only teams higher: 2000 Texas, 2005 Michigan State, and 2010 Butler.)

(3) Maryland over (7) Arizona. Maryland meets the 31% threshold and is the better team.

Elite Eight

(5) West Virginia over (3) Maryland. West Virginia would be favored head-to-head, first off. More importantly, they rank as the third-best 5 seed of all time, behind 2000 Texas and 2005 Michigan State. This would be a rare opportunity, and I’m guessing they take advantage.

Final tally: 1 Round of 64 upset, 1 Round of 32, 1 Sweet Sixteen.

NEXT PAGE: East Region

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