Late last night, well into my second glass of wine, my wife gave me a bracket science challenge. When Michelle asks a question about tourney analytics, I listen—not just because she makes me a big pump pot of coffee every morning and everything I need to eat throughout these crazy days, but also because she won our big pool a few years back.
As she was combing over the data last night, Michelle asked, “So which past tourney does this one most look like?”
It’s the sort of question you don’t want to get at midnight, when you’re just about to climb into bed. I mulled it over while tossing and turning and decided on a simple way to answer. I compared the average Pythag of the top 13 seeds with their historical counterparts. Here, in one handy GIF animation, if what I discovered:
The “eye test,” as well as calculations on the standard deviation between the numbers, comes up with the answer that 2014 is most like 2003, 2006, 2011 and 2013. That should scare the willies out of everyone. Those four years had an average Madometer reading of 17.3% with an average of 10.5 upsets. For comparision, the average dance is 14.3% mad with 8.7 upsets.
When you look deeper at those tourneys, their Final Fours were remarkably low seeded. The average Final Four has a cumulative seed value of 10.8. Three of the four dances most resembling 2014 are well above that.
- 2003 – One 1, one 2, and two 3 seeds = 9 seed positions, #3 Syracuse
- 2006 – One 2, one 3, one 4 and one 11 seed = 20 seed positions, #3 Florida
- 2011 – One 3, one 4, one 8 and one 11 seed = 26 seed positions, #3 UConn
- 2013 – One 1, two 4’s and one 9 seed = 18 seed positions, #1 Louisville
Interestingly, all of these dances included a seed lower than eight…and three of the four were won by a three seed.
If we look more closely at how the four tourneys compare to 2014, we may get some insight into how the top four seeds will performance—and how crazy the upset games might get. Check this out:
Some observations by year:
- 2003 vs. 2014: The 2003 two seeds were considerable stronger than this year’s crew, but the four seeds weren’t nearly as strong. Five and six seeds, on the other hand, were stronger in 2003, while 11 and 12’s were weaker overall. That may suggest that we’ll have more upsets at those positions. For comparison’s sake, only two 5v12 or 6v11 upsets got sprung in 2003.
- 2006 vs. 2014: The shape of the first eight 2006 seeds is eerily similar to this year. But the nine through 12 seeds are considerably stronger. In 2006, the 11 and 12 upset seeds split their games with favorites.
- 2011 vs. 2014: If I had to pick one tourney that most resembled 2014, it would be 2011. That year the Madometer was its second craziest (19.8% mad), eclipsed only by 2013—and there were 13 upsets, tied for the most with four other dances. Look at the similarity in the curve all the way to the ten seed. Yes, there are slight differences from seed to seed, but it’s an amazingly similar shape. The fours were even stronger in 2011 than this year. The big differences come in the 11-13 seeds. 11 seeds are up, 12 seeds are down and 13 seeds are bad. In 2011, these seeds were 5-7 in the opening round.
- 2013 vs. 2014: Last year’s two, three and eight seeds were stronger than they are this year. But the 4-6 seeds were similar to 2014, as were the 11-13 seeds. So those match-ups may generate about the same number of upsets. Last year, the underdog went 5-7 in slaying the giant.
So there’s your answer, Michelle. When you win the billion dollar bracket, will you still make me ham sandwiches?