The next two feature articles I’m working on are the all-consuming 2014 Seed Guide and my analysis of Key Performance Indicators. In both of these pieces, the value of scoring margin figures prominently. The fact is, scoring margin is just this side of seeding when it comes to identifying tourney contenders and pretenders.
I’ve shown the chart below in previous years, but it bears updating. With each additional point of scoring margin by which you segment tourney teams, the performance against seed expectations increases. Let me put that more simply: teams that beat opponents by an average of, say, eight point points beat seed projected win totals at a higher rate than those with seven-point margins…and teams with nine-point margins are bigger overachievers than the eight-point club. And so on and so on. Want proof? Here’s the chart:
This never ceases to amaze me. Whether you’re looking at favored seeds (1-6) or underdog seeds (7-12), scoring margin is a reliable guide to identifying overachievement. Let’s take the higher seeds first. For these teams, owning a scoring margin higher then eight points a game yields a +.035 PASE. That rate increases to +.108 with more than a 10 point margin, +.176 at more than 12 points and a stellar +.400 at more than 15 points a game. In all, 112 one- to six-seeded teams have come into the dance with more than a 15-point margin. Nearly 80% of them (89) have reached the Elite Eight, 46 have made the Final Four—and 16 have cut down the nets. By seeding these teams should’ve won only 310 games…but they actually notched 355 victories.
The numbers are just as impressive for the Cinderella seeds. Look at how the PASE leaps from the 12-point to 15-point margin groups. It’s practically linear. The 12-point club owns a +.107 PASE. The 13-point club adds +.158 to their PASE. Then the 14-point club adds another +.113 and the 15-point teams add +.146. Granted, only 12 of these higher seeded squads owned average margins above 15 points. But four of them reached the Elite Eight. They should’ve won fewer than eight games by seed projections, but actually pulled off 14 surprises, for a hefty PASE of +.524. To put this in perspective, only 25 of the remaining 684 teams seeded seven through 12 made the Elite Eight, a 3.6% rate versus 33% for our higher margin teams.
Scoring margin also proves helpful in identifying pretenders. Take top seeds, for example. The average one seed owns a 15.6 average scoring margin coming into the tourney. The 57 top seeds with a worse margin than that are -.336 underachievers with a Final Four advancement rate of 29.8%. The 59 top seeds with at least that margin are +.325 overachievers, and they’ve reached the Final Four at a 50.8% clip. Think about some of the more disappointing top seeds of the last two years: MSU, Syracuse and North Carolina in 2012 and Kansas last year. All of them owned “below-seed-average” margins.
As I unveil the 2014 Seed Guide and the KPI Study in the coming weeks, you’ll see how important margin is in separating overachievers from underachievers at every seed and in most seed match-ups throughout the dance. I just thought it would be a good idea to raise the consciousness of margin in its own right. If you remember nothing about Bracket Science other than that, it will serve you well.