Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Regional

The ratings indicate Kansas is probably the favorite to win this thing, so you can probably guess that I figure them as a Final Four team. At 48.3% to win the Midwest Region, no one in particular poses a serious challenge to their potential title run. But that doesn't mean we can't go mining for upsets and bad seeds. And wow, there are a lot, as Kansas was handed a fairly easy bracket full of overseeded teams.


Ohio State: Pomeroy really likes Ohio State, a good shooting offensive team that plays a clean game but struggles for second chance points. Sagarin figures them around 11th in the country, which hangs them around low-3 seed territory. Yet they get seeded at #2, on par with West Virginia and Kansas State. I can understand a tough Big Ten Schedule and winning the Big Ten Tournament bolstering their profile except the Big Ten wasn't actually that tough this year, nor was their non-con. Pomeroy ranked their 28-7 schedule in the 40's and Sagarin pegged it in the 50's. If you wanted a strong team with several top 25 wins (OSU has four), then why not Baylor (who has six, but gets a #3 seed)? I still peg them as a dark horse candidate that has a good chance to face Kansas in the Elite Eight but they're going to find several tough outs along the way, and there's a 61% chance someone gets them before then.

Michigan State: Sounds like I'm being hard on the Big Ten this year, sure, but I had turnover prone MSU scraping into the Top 25, especially given a similar schedule, a quick Big Ten tourney exit to Minnesota and several late season losses and early losses to what turned out to be pretender teams from North Carolina and Florida. The only truly impressive win on their resume was a scrappy effort over Wisconsin. The Committee says they're a #5 but I see them as closer to a #7 than a #6. They can get out of the first round but I don't see them winning a likely 2nd round match with Maryland.

Oklahoma State: A comparitively weak defensive team that struggles to contest shots, the Cowboys battled down an up and down stretch before bowing out of the Big 12 Tourney with a 22-10 record. Big wins over Baylor and Kansas (!) late in the season looked very good, but listless losses to Texas and Texas A&M, as well as a loss to Texas Tech (yikes) looked very not so good. A #7 seed was a bit of a gift for a team that was probably more of a #9, and chances are good that they may not make it out of the 1st round.

UNLV: Yes, I'm not above cutting down my hometown alma mater. Lon Kruger's built himself a good, solid program that controls the ball and plays solid defense. But they had a big of a weak-ish non-con schedule and a big win over BYU came with two losses to lowly Utah and another to a weak USC squad. As usual, they made a tourney run on their home court, but this time fell flat in the final against a San Diego State squad they could have beaten. The Committee calls them an #8 but I never had them higher than #10. Once they closed the season I had them on the bubble, close to #11 or #12. I think they can beat Northern Iowa, but previous squads had a better chance against Kansas than this undersized, unspectacular one.

New Mexico State: Even after upsetting Utah State to win the WAC, I did not peg NMSU any higher than a #13 seed, probably more like #14. #12 is a seed reserved for teams around the at-large bubble, ranked around the 40's and 50's. Sagarin has New Mexico State at #97 and Pomeroy has them at #115. Once you get into double digit seeds, I guess it ultimately doesn't matter where you're seeded since you're an underdog out of the gate. But New Mexico State was way overseeded, and certainly isn't likely to pull the fabled 5-12 upset against Michigan State. They play weak defense and are hopeless on the boards against a competent rebounding team, let alone a good one.

Got the Shaft:

Georgia Tech
: Despite a spate of late season losses, I didn't exactly have Georgia Tech on the bubble and neither did the ratings. Pomeroy had them #27 and Sagarin #30, right around #7-8 seed territory. Tech had one of the nation's toughest schedules, and nine of their 11 losses came against top 50 teams (ten if you count Wake Forest, which Pomeroy has at #51). Six came against top 25 teams and two, including Tech's ACC Tourney loss, came against Duke. Along the way, they beat Duke in another matchup, as well as Clemson, Wake and Maryland (in the ACC Tourney) while holding serve against their weaker foes: Only two foes rated below #51 beat them (Georgia and Virginia). Not exactly weaker at-large #10 seed material. The good news for Tech is that they're the favorite anyway in a winnable game with #7 Oklahoma State, and either way they'd be in line for a 2nd rounder with #2 Ohio State. But a #7 may have gotten them a somewhat easier first round matchup.

Contrary to Popular Belief:

Lon Kruger is not on the prowl for another team to jump ship to. UNLV's forthcoming elimination will end his 6th season with the Rebels, his longest tenure with a team since his six years with Florida... and that tenure ended with him getting subtlely run out of town after a 12-16 season. He's reportedly very happy with his situation at UNLV and has been for years, probably the most secure situation he's had in his career. That's not to say he won't ever leave for the right opportunity, but that's nowhere on the horizon and won't be for some time.

Michigan State is notorious for looking ugly in the regular season against a tough schedule and then unloading in the NCAA Tournament against non-battle-hardened foes. However, they're going to need to take care of the ball (their 21.3% turnover rate is 222nd out of 347 D-I teams) and they have to hit their free throws (68.1% as a team, 206th) to do it. This sort of ugliness is atypical of those Tom Izzo Spartanerrela teams.

Not so Contrary to Popular Belief:

Kansas may have arguably the easiest region of any #1 seed in the field. No one in the region has more than a 30% chance (Ohio State) of upending one of the big favorites to cut down the nets in Indy next month.

Not a prayer:

Pretty much anyone in this field not named Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown or Maryland. The last three are somewhat dim dark horses themselves to the Jayhawks. The chance of someone other than those four crashing the Final Four? 16.6%

Lehigh is probably the weakest of the #16 seeds (even though Arkansas Pine Bluff's million to one hopes improved to around 303,000 to 1 with their Play-In victory on Tuesday), and with a 49 to 1 longshot to up-end Kansas, their overall chances of making the Final Four are 94,985 to 1.

You have a better chance of... escaping the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament with a perfect office pool bracket. Yes, whether with strong knowledge of the game or picking the favorites of picking the better mascot, your typical chances of being perfect in round one are 13,039 to 1. My picks based on Sagarin Predictor ratings and probability metrics, assuming the probabilities are dead-on, would be slightly better... about 10,650 to 1.

Watch out for:

Uh... highlights from the next Kansas blowout? There really aren't any big surprises distinctly possible in this bracket. Georgia Tech at #10 is a 57-43 shot to up-end #7 Oklahoma State, and #11 San Diego State has a reasonable 41% chance at upsetting #6 Tennessee. Both also have real shots at 2nd round upsets in the 32-35% range as well. And if Northern Iowa wins their 47-53 matchup with UNLV, their Four-Corners-like tempo could wreak havoc with Kansas and could threaten an epic upset if they thread the needle (George Mason used a similar slow-tempo approach in their 2006 Final Four run).

But in all likelihood, the favorites should otherwise hold serve, making this one of the more ho-hum brackets unless somebody goes crazy.


1. Kansas. Sweet 16: 83.6%. Final Four: 6 to 5 (48.3%)
2. Ohio State. Sweet 16: 62.6%. Final Four: 5.4 to 1
3. Georgetown. Sweet 16: 53.6%. Final Four: 9.1 to 1
4. Maryland. Sweet 16: 51.6%. Final Four: 9.5 to 1
5. Michigan State. Sweet 16: 41.3%. Final Four: 17.8 to 1
6. Tennessee. Sweet 16: 27.5%. Final Four: 28.3 to 1
7. Oklahoma State. Sweet 16: 6 to 1. Final Four: 76.8 to 1
8. UNLV. Sweet 16: 10 to 1. Final Four: 79.0 to 1
9. Northern Iowa. Sweet 16: 13 to 1. Final Four: 110.1 to 1
10. Georgia Tech. Sweet 16: 22.5%. Final Four: 32.5 to 1
11. San Diego State. Sweet 16: 5 to 1. Final Four: 79.9 to 1
12. New Mexico State. Sweet 16: 47 to 1. Final Four: 5538.2 to 1
13. Houston. Sweet 16: 19 to 1. Final Four: 843.4 to 1
14. Ohio University. Sweet 16: 32 to 1. Final Four: 2224.2 to 1
15. UC Santa Barbara. Sweet 16: 99 to 1. Final Four: 15400.1 to 1
16. Lehigh. Sweet 16: 499 to 1. Final Four: 94985 to 1

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