Eliminating Contenders To Find A Winner For The 2022 NCAA March Madness Tournament

John Alesia

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is upon us once again, and as always, I will be breaking down five ways you can eliminate some top seeds from consideration. In picking potential final four teams and champions, I find it much easier to eliminate teams from consideration to narrow down the selections. The criteria we will use to do this are as follows;

1. Preseason AP Rankings vs. Current Rankings
2. Point Shooting
3. Points Per Game
4. Coaches Success
5. Scoring Margin

1. Pre Season AP Rankings can predict tournament success

The following comes from a Nate Silver article in the NY Times before the 2011 tournament.

Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 41 cases in which a school that was unranked to start the season entered the tournament ranked in the AP top 10 (excluding a couple of cases where the team was ineligible for tournament play). These schools, as you might expect, were seeded highly: eight were No. 1 seeds and another 17 were seeded No. 2.

Absolutely none of these teams have made the Final Four, however: they are 0-for-41. Instead, they have been the victims of some notorious upsets, like the No. 2-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks losing — by 13 points! — to the No. 15 seed Coppin State in the opening Round of the 1997 tournament, and the No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers being one of Davidson's victims in 2008. Three of the No. 1 seeds that fit this description — Michigan in 1985, St. John's in 1986, and Cincinnati in 2002 — lost in the Round of 32.

Since this article, I have kept track of all qualifying teams.

2011 Notre Dame (2) lost in 2nd Round to Florida
2012 Florida State (3) lost in 2nd Round to Cincinnati
2013 Georgetown (2) lost in 1st Round to Florida GC
2013 Miami (2) lost in 3rd Round to Marquette
2014 Villanova (1) lost in 2nd Round to Uconn
2014 Iowa St (3) lost in 3rd Round to Uconn
2015 Maryland(4) lost in 3rd Round to Kentucky
2015 N. Iowa (5) lost in 3rd Round to Louisville
2016. Xavier (2) lost in 2nd Round to Wisconsin
2016. Oregon (1) lost in Elite 8 to Oklahoma
2016. West Virginia (3) lost in 1st Round to Stephen F. Austin
2016. Miami (3) lost in 3rd Round to Villanova
2017. Baylor (3) lost in the 3rd Round to South Carolina
2018. Virginia (1) lost to 16th seed UMBC in its first game
2018. Michigan (3) lost in the championship game
2019. Texas Tech (3) lost in the championship game
2021. Arkansas (3) lost in Elite 8
2021. Alabama (2) Lost in Sweet 16

The record is now 2-57 for these teams to reach the Final 4!!!

Here are the preseason rankings for 2021-22

Current Teams in the top 10 not ranked in the preseason
(1S) Arizona

2. 3 Point Shooting

The 3 pt shot has become extremely important in both the NBA and college basketball.

Since 2007 no team that shoots under 30% from behind the arc has won a game in the tournament.

There are no teams that made the tournament and shot under 30% from 3.

Since 2007 only six teams shooting under 33% from beyond the arc have made the elite 8. If you are not going to shoot the 3 well then you need to defend it well. In 2012 both Louisville and Ohio State made it to the final 4 with sub 33% 3 point shooting, but both defended the 3 as good or better than they shot it. Louisville gave up 30.3% from 3 and Ohio State 32.5%. 2015 Kentucky was sub 33%, but they defended it well at 32.5%. 2016 North Carolina broke this trend a bit with a poor 3pt shooting team that gave up 36% from 3. Most recently, Duke lost in the Elite 8 as a 1 seed in 2019. They were shooting the 3 pointers at 30.8% coming into the tournament. They were, however, one of the best in the nation at defending the 3, giving up 30%.
Teams to be cautious of;

(16) Wright St 33%
(12) New Mexico St 33%
(12) Wyoming 33%
(14) Yale 32.9%
(6) Texas 32.3%
(16) Georgia St 32.3%
(11) Iowa St 32.1%
(2) Auburn 32.1%
(6) LSU 31.9%
(16) Texas Southern 31.6%
(16) Texas A&M CC 31.6%
(3) Texas Tech 31.4%
(3) Wisconsin 31.2%
(6) Alabama 30.8%
(16) Bryant 30.7%
(4) Arkansas 30.7%
(9) Creighton 30.7%
(9) TCU 30.4%

This is the longest list I have seen in this category. We have quite a few seeds of 6 or better. Seven of them to be exact.

When I make this list I like to see if any of these teams defend the 3 point line at an elite level. Here are the teams who give up a lower percentage than they shoot from the above list

New Mexico St 30%
Wyoming 30.3%
Yale 30.4%
Texas 31.8%
Iowa St 29.6%
Auburn 31.2%
LSU 28%
Texas Tech 31.3%

3. Points Per Game
Playing defense is great, but you will need to keep pace with great offenses come tournament time.

84 Teams have scored 73 PPG or less coming into the tournament and had a 1-4 seed. 13 made the final 4 with our first champion coming in 2019 with Virginia.

Here are the 1-5 Seeds and their PPG ( I add the 5's just to see what we have)

The teams coming up short are
(2S) Villanova
(3W) Texas Tech
(3MW) Wisconsin
(4MW) Providence
(5E) St Mary's

4. Coaches Success

Coaches are very important to the success of a team come tournament time. Great coaches tend to outperform their expectations.

This is taken from Pete at Bracket Science

Using tourney appearances and Elite Eight trips, I've come up with the following taxonomy of coaching types in the tourney:
Rookies – making their first trip to the tourney
Novices – 2-5 tourney trips with no Elite Eight runs
Prodigies – 2-5 tourney trips with at least one Elite Eight run
Snake-bit – more than five trips with no Elite Eight runs
Flashes – more than five trips with one Elite Eight run
Destined – 6-10 trips with more than one Elite Eight run
Veterans – more than 10 trips with 2-4 Elite Eight runs
Legends – more than 10 trips with more than four Elite Eight runs

I'm focusing this analysis on one through six seeds, the seeds most likely to advance in the dance. A standard PASE (Performance above seed expectation) analysis on the eight classes of coaches turned up these results:

As the chart shows the "snakebit" coaches are ones you will want to stay away from picking to make a deep run. In 2021, 5 seed Creighton got to the Sweet 16, 2 seed Ohio St was upset in the 1st round, and 2 seed Iowa lost in the second round. 2 of the 3 woefully underperformed their seed expectations.

This year we have two teams team with a "Snake Bit" coach in a 1-6 seed.
(5E) St Mary's - Randy Bennett
(5MW) Iowa - Fran McCaffery

The next group of coaches that underperform at close to the level "Snake Bit" Coaches do are "Rookies". These are the coaches making their debut in the tournament. We have three coaches who fit that bill this season.

(1S) Arizona - Tommy Lloyd
(3W) Texas Tech - Mark Adams
(6s) Colorado St - Niko Meved

"Legend" coaches outperform their seed expectations more than any other group. The teams with one of those coaches are;

(1MW) Kansas - Bill Self
(2W) Duke - Mike Krzyzewski
(2E) Kentucky - John Calipari
(2S) Villanova - Jay Wright

5. Scoring Margin
Using the PASE (Performance above seed expectations) stat from the now-defunct Bracket Science, the number one determinant of being able to outperform your seed expectation is scoring margin.

135 teams have been a 1-4 seed and come into the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin. 55 have made the final 4 (40.7%), and 20 have won it all (14.8%), including the last three champions. Last season Houston, Baylor, and Gonzaga all made the Final 4 with a 15+ scoring margin coming into the tournament.

Two teams this season qualify;
(1W) Gonzaga
(1S) Arizona

(Houston as the 5 seed in the South also has a scoring margin over 15 st 16.9)

Of the 167 teams to get a 1-4 seed and have a scoring margin under 10 just 2 have won a title and 11 have gone to the final 4.

2021 season

(4) Florida ST Lost in Sweet 16
(4) Okla. State Lost in 2nd Round
(4) Purdue Lost in 1st Round
(4) Virginia Lost in 1st Round
(3) Texas Lost in 1st Round
(3) W. Virginia Lost in 2nd Round
(3) Kansas Lost in 2nd Round
(2) Alabama Lost in Sweet 16
(2) Ohio State Lost in 1st Rd

Teams under the 10 scoring margin this season
(2S) Villanova
(3MW) Wisconsin
(4W) Arkansas
(4S) Illinois
(4MW) Providence


33 Champions since 1985 have been a 1-4 seed with just three seeded higher. So for a potential champion, we should eliminate all teams seeded above 4.

From the above, we can eliminate the following top 4 seeds from championship contention;

(Region) Team, corresponding number to above stat

1 Seeds
(S) Arizona 1,4

2 Seeds
(S) Villanova 3,5
(MW) Auburn 2

3 Seeds
(MW) Wisconsin 2,3,5
(W) Texas Tech 2,3,4

4 Seeds
(W) Arkansas 2,5
(S) Illinois 5
(MW) Providence 3,5

What we are left with
1 Gonzaga
2 Duke

1 Kansas

3 Tennessee

1 Baylor
2 Kentucky
3 Purdue

Last season we could not eliminate any of the 1 seeds. We wound up with the top two teams facing off in the finals. The upset happened, which if you read this last season may have put you on Baylor and possibly helped you win your bracket pool. It did for me.

I like to look at coaches when filling out the brackets. Matt Painter of Purdue has 13 trips to the dance with just one Elite 8 appearance. Rick Barnes at Tennessee has been a notorious underachiever in the tournament. He has 25 appearances with one Final 4 Trip and two other trips to the Elite 8. You may want to stay clear of them both.

If we avoid Tennessee, that leaves no top 4 seeds in the South. Perhaps that means Houston makes another run. They are ranked 4th in the country on KenPom. In a seed-weighted pool, having them in your bracket to get to the Final 4 could win the pool even if you do not get the champion correct.

When picking a bracket, you need to use some game theory. For those familiar with Daily Fantasy Sports, ownership is an essential factor in determining who you want to play in your lineups. The same thing applies in picking a bracket. I will have another article going in-depth on this topic.

Let's have a look at where the country is picking on ESPN

Gonzaga is the obvious top choice. They are picked to win it all in 29.2% of ESPN pools as of this writing. If you have a pool with 100 entries, you can expect about 30 entries to have Gonzaga to win it all. In my experience, there will be less than that. Participants will try and find an upset pick to win a pool. We should see at least 25% in most pools, though. 538 puts the Zags at 27% to win it all. Kenpom has Gonzaga at 27.5%, and Draftkings is about 21% after factoring in juice, 25% with the juice in.

The other top contenders we did not eliminate look like this

These numbers will change as the week progresses. Wait as long as you can before putting in your final brackets. I am going to go into more detail on the game theory behind the brackets in another article.

The numbers on Gonzaga are not so bad that you could not take them in your bracket. If you do, you will need to differentiate yourself elsewhere. Most likely with your final 4 selections. My next article will help with that.

You could look to take a 1 seed not getting respect like Kansas. You will not have a ton of competition in your pool if you are correct with Kansas.

If you are in a pool that weights the seed then you may want to look to a 2 seed like Kentucky. In a 100 entry pool you may be competing with just 6-8 entries should Kentucky win it all.

I will have more on the tournament as the week progresses. 

Good Luck!

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