Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quick Recap

There are at least 4 ways to enjoy the NCAA tournament.

1) In-person.

I have heard a lot of people say they prefer to watch on TV because it is easier to see all the action. I find this a bit absurd. When you watch in person you get the total picture. You get to see the player size differences, visualize the difficulty in penetrating the zone, and feel when the roar of the crowd swings the momentum. You also get to hear the college bands during timeouts instead of seeing that Buffalo Wild Wings commercial for the 10,000 time. (Seriously, they have been running that “Send it into Overtime” ad forever.) But most importantly, only when you attend in person do you feel the excitement of 20,000 people holding their breath on one shot. In my opinion, there are two valid excuses to watch at home: Limited time and limited money.

When attending in person, I’ve only had one bad experience, one location with no close games. Obviously that’s always a risk, but with 6 games at any first round site, you are almost guaranteed at least a few good games.

2) At home, using DirectTV.

After my DirectTV signal went out at the start of March last year and they claimed they couldn’t come out and fix it until April, I’m done with DirectTV. Flipping channels is nice, but you always have:

3) March Madness on Demand on the computer.

This has improved substantially over the last few years. You can now access any game immediately, and you can flip between games with no delay. Plus the end of games are not as choppy as they used to be. This technology keeps getting better and better. But the best place to watch March Madness is clearly:

4) At the Sports Bar

Everyone is watching every game, and if something dramatic happens, you are guaranteed to get half the people cheering and groaning. This is as close to the in-stadium feeling as you can get without physically being in the stadium.

The most under-rated part of March Madness is Sunday afternoon on the first weekend. We get the last window of 4 games at once. Today I flipped my attention between Cornell beating Wisconsin, an 11-0 comeback by Georgia Tech against Ohio St, and a close game between West Virginia and Missouri. But the best part of today was listening to the Maryland fans. They cheered dramatically at the big comeback and two late leads, only to curse when Michigan St. hit the buzzer beater. This is what March is all about.

Sadly, not all of these options are conducive to immediate feedback. So here are my thoughts on the weekend.

1) Your best bet when making predictions is to make them on all sides so you can’t be wrong. While I posted the Hummel Odds last week, I also emphasized that Siena had struggled mightily against NCAA tournament teams this year. We now have two more games without Hummel. I’ll try to update the new Hummel odds on Monday night unless I see them somewhere else first.

2) Retroactively, we’ll look back and never remember that Pomeroy’s numbers favored Wisconsin over Kentucky in the East. Kentucky’s 30 point win over Wake Forest and Wisconsin’s loss to Cornell will have completely flipped the pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage and odds. I kept doubting my Kentucky as national champion pick and looking for a statistical excuse to rationalize my choice, but I feel better after this weekend.

3) I’m sure there’s nothing to it, but whenever I watch these games, the biggest predictor of success seems to be the teams that take the ball to the basket instead of settling for jumpers. The biggest example of this was Xavier which won in the first round against a taller Minnesota team. Despite 10 blocks by the Gophers at halftime, Xavier kept taking the ball inside and trying to score in the paint and they ultimately wore the Gophers down. The 10 blocks may have seemed like a bad sign for Xavier, but in fact, it wouldn’t have been possible to get that many blocks if the Musketeers hadn’t been so persistent in their inside attack.

4) My biggest question heading into this weekend was whether Notre Dame’s defense would stand up. It did, but Old Dominion’s defense was even better. But I wasn’t surprised that Baylor was able to beat ODU. You have to beat the Old Dominion defense before it gets set, and Baylor has been aggressive in full court all year.

5) The game I most wanted to watch in the first round was full-court pressure vs full-court pressure, Missouri vs Clemson with Gus Johnson calling the game. The first half was fantastic with Clemson hitting a ton of threes early, but Missouri’s full-court pressure ultimately forced too many turnovers and the Tigers were back in the game at halftime. But Clemson struggled to score in the second half, and the game wasn’t as fun as I hoped.

6) Remember when the ACC used to get 2 teams in the Sweet Sixteen every year? (This used to be Dick Vitale’s favorite fact.) Well, that streak was broken a few years ago, and it isn’t starting again yet.

The Raw Numbers

Teams in Sweet Sixteen
3 Big Ten
2 Big 12, Big East, SEC
1 ACC, A10, Pac10, WCC, MVC, Horizon, Ivy

Win-Loss Record
7-2 Big10
3-1 Pac10
3-1 WCC
4-2 SEC
7-5 Big 12
6-6 Big East
5-5 ACC
2-2 A10
2-4 MWC
0-2 WAC
0-2 CUSA
9-16 Other

Sunday’s log 5 Winners and Losers

Here are the big changes in Final Four odds today for various teams and the sum total of the odds for each conference.

Once again, the point of this is to show that some teams win even without playing. Today the biggest winner was Kentucky which won’t have to play Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen. You can argue pretty convincingly that Cornell is playing better than Wisconsin right now, but over the full season Wisconsin’s overall profile (including wins against Duke and all the Big Ten’s best teams) suggested the Badgers would give Kentucky a much tougher game.

Duke is the only ACC team left, but Duke is such a prohibitive favorite in the South, Duke’s odds are almost as high as the odds of Tennessee plus Kentucky.

Now over the last few days, I’ve been tracking how the odds have changed using pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage. But this weekend’s outcomes have also changed our evaluation of individual teams. I.e., Kentucky winning by 30 over Wake Forest said something about how good Kentucky really is. To see the full odds, incorporating the margin-of-victory this weekend, check out Basketball Prospectus later this week.