For the last couple months, I’ve been promising that I’d do a full Quality Curve of the top 52 teams in the tourney (the presumptive 1-13 seeds) once the brackets were set. I finally got around to it this morning—and what I see scares me. We could be in for one wacky dance. Feast your eyes on how the efficiency of the 2013 field compares to average fields (thick light blue), the chalky 2007 tourney (orange) and the crazy 2011 dance (dark blue):
First, a few words about 2007 and 2011. Look at the orange line. Is it any wonder that tournament was historically free of upsets? You had high quality teams from the top seed all the way down to what would be the ten seed—and then historically bad low seeds, where the upsets tend to come from. On the other hand, look at the thin blue line: the top ten seeds were all well below average…then the quality came up to average from about position 38 to 46 before tailing off dramatically.
Now, look what we have this year. The four most efficient teams—Florida, Louisville, Indiana and Gonzaga—are about average compared to their historical counterparts. Then the fifth (Ohio State) through 13th (Syracuse) best teams start drifting toward the 2011 line of all-time weakness. And from the the 14th best team (Miami) all the way to the 41st best team (Belmont), you’re looking at squads whose efficiency is worse or only slightly better than the quality of teams in the craziest dance of the modern era.
But it gets worse. Instead of the presumptive upset seeds (positions 42 to 52) tailing off, they actually get better than average—much better. In fact, they’re solidly better than even the 2007 tourney. Uh-oh. Setting aside the very best teams, we have historically weak second-echelon squads and historically strong Cinderella teams.
I had made the case a few weeks back that there wasn’t parity in college basketball. But this curve suggests that there most definitely is. It also suggests that we are in four a lot of upsets. Could we break the record of 13 shockers set in four different years—1986, 1987, 2002 and 2011? Will the Madometer soar past its record reading of 19.8% unpredictability? I don’t know…but suddenly I’m thinking a safe, chalky bracket isn’t going to get it done.