Which past tourney does 2014 most resemble?

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?

This entry was posted in Bracket Tools, Measuring Madness, Tourney Trends. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Which past tourney does 2014 most resemble?

  1. Michelle Tiernan says:

    Love it! Once more, you have exceeded my expectations! Thank you!
    The reason I asked this question was that I wanted to find out which models might work best with this tournament field. I love the new Bracket Model Performance Chart on the first page of the Models this year.
    And yes, I will always make your ham sandwiches, even if I win the billion-dollar bracket!

  2. Mike L. says:

    Pete, I see what you did there.
    First, you jumped into the pot with a strong hand showing the Pulse Check, Quality Curve Analysis, and spinning out about 10 models in the first 36 hours.
    Then, Ryan, Gary and myself raise you in the Quality Curve Forum with our Bracket Actualization data and seed-by-seed win Expectations.
    Now, you go all-in with year-by-year Quality Curve Matching Graphs and the Best Wife in the World. I think you are just showing off now. It sounds to me like if you come in last place in your bracket pools, you still come out on top.

    Anyways, I was just double-checking to make sure that the 2011 graph was right. It shows stronger 4’s than 2014 and weaker 11s than 2014, yet the actual 2011 bracket shows that 11s had the same tournament outcomes as the 4s. Each had a team go to the F4, another to the S16, a third to win 1 game, and a 4th to lose its first game. Seems kind of odd considering this 2014 seems to match 2011 closest for the top 10 seeds.

    • Mike L. says:

      When looking at Quality Curves, keep in mind: these are 4-team averages. The 4’s are incredibly high because they include Pythag ranks of 2, 10, 16, and 21 (AVG=12.25). If you want another way to look at it, seed the teams based on their Pythag ranks, so 1-4 Pythags are 1-seeds, 5-8 are 2-seeds, and etc. For the Pythag ranks of the 2014 4-seeds, you get a 1, 3, 4, 6. Look at the 8-seeds: 17, 20, 45, & 64 (AVG = 36.5). 8 seeds should fall in the 29-32 Pythag zone. The average is almost in-line with the expectation, but it seems that two 8’s are under-seeded and two 8’s are over-seeded. The whole point is that averages are exactly what you think they are: average. A higher than normal average for a seed doesn’t mean the whole crop is good, just one or two maybe. And it also doesn’t even tell you the quality of the 9 that they are matched up against.

  3. John says:

    So the F4 and Champ rules document only has the lowest seed as 6-8.

    I know you have tons on your plate already, but any insight as to what trends teams that are 8-12 have that have made runs to the final four?

  4. Michal says:

    I might be wrong, but it seems like the models are much more chalky this year than in previous years. I find that an interesting contradiction with some of the research that’s been done like in this post. Something has to give and it’ll be fun watching how it all plays out.

  5. John says:

    Looking at the trends, the final four model did well in 06 and ’11, the final four model’s final four looks pretty reasonable this year with Arizona over Nova in the championship game. I think this matched with some kenpom and eye test could be a good barometer for a good bracket.

  6. Will says:

    From what I can tell, ’06 and ’11 are the strongest correlations for this tournament…looks like we’re in for a good one. Also would like to echo sentiment of request for any knowledge on 9-11 seed trends for getting into Final Four, just so I can potentially tell who to not take out in the first round by way of major error.

    • ptiernan says:

      Anything I supplied would be a small sample size. Just four of 348 teams have done it. 11 LSU in 86, 11 George Mason in 2006, 11 VCU in 2011 and 9 Wichita State in 2013. Absolutely nothing would’ve foretold VCU.

      • nucappy says:

        So 3 of the 4 times a 9-11 seed made the final four, it happened in 3 of the 4 tournaments that most closely resemble this year’s…something to keep in mind.

  7. John says:

    Just to add a whole other layer to this entire thing.

    Sportsbook.ag released the tournament prop bets. Here are some highlights…These tend to be pretty close to what ultimately happens. I may consider running these numbers against what I pick to make sure I’m not too far crazy. For instance: Having a total of 9 SEC Wins when the o/u is 5.5.

    Big 10: 10.5 Wins
    Big 12: 8 Wins
    ACC: 9 Wins
    Pac12: 7.5 Wins
    Big East: 5.5 Wins
    AAC: 5.5 Wins
    SEC: 5.5 Wins
    A10: 4 Wins
    Mountwain West: 2.5 Wins

    1 Seeds: 11 Wins
    2 Seeds: 8.5 Wins

    Florida: 3 Wins
    Louisville: 3 Wins

    • Andy says:

      Interesting stuff. Can’t say that Florida misses the Final Four though, as the other side of the South is very weak, by my estimation. But I can see them losing to Michigan State once they get there. Louisville with three wins, that I like a lot, as since I keep harping on, their #80 SOS does not exactly suggest a Final Four run, especially coupled with a #149 non-conference showing with only two good teams played (and lost against). Their #2 ratings by Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin will allow them an Elite Eight run though for sure.

      2.5 is 1.5 too many though for the Mountain West, in my opinion. I’m sorry, but I am seeing Stanford as by far and away the best 10 seed and thus not a good draw for New Mexico, while San Diego State is the weakest 4. I can’t take New Mexico State, but I can take the Aztecs out immediately afterwards.

      11 wins for the 1 seeds is not too far off from what I am thinking. Virginia and Wichita State are obvious underachievers, going out in the Sweet 16. But of course I have to look at the fact that the have Florida out in the Elite Eight, which I just don’t see happening. And Arizona is even more of a favorite. They probably have the Cats losing once they get there, though I still have a tough time imagining who they would lose against from the Midwest without Louisville there.

      My gut has also told me for a long time to go with a final matchup between Arizona and Michigan State. After reviewing everything, I have to reason not to go with that. But I have made one last change. I reviewed Arizona’s momentum in the last ten games, and it is HORRIBLE for a 1 seed. Sean Miller will make sure they overachieve though, and they still get to the Finals. But seven wins in the last ten and a loss coming in usually accounts for major underachievement. Plus, I have mentioned that teams playing slower than 65 possessions, when adjusted, usually don’t win the championship. Finally, Michigan State really does seem to have figured it out.

  8. Scott Horman says:

    I think the Pythag values being used for historic years are as of the conclusion of the tournament, not at the start. The averages seem to match what’s currently on kenpom.com, but not my historic downloads (I capture the final rankings on Selection Sunday).

    2011 Final Pythags for top seeds:
    Ohio St. 0.98
    Duke 0.975
    Kansas 0.971
    Pittsburgh 0.9594

    Avg = .9714

    What shows in graph above is closer to .9500, which reflects the Pythags through the conclusion of the tournament.

    • ptiernan says:

      Ken gave me all the pre-tourney data using his new formula a few weeks back…so it’s accurate (at least for KenPom).

  9. Ryan Tressler says:

    Made a bracket form-fitting to the averages of these 4 brackets (as closely as possible anyway) using pythag differences to decide who advances, came up with some interesting results . . . Florida, Villanova, Creighton, and Louisville ended up as the final four with Louisville beating Florida . . . here are some more things that pop up:

    Round 1:
    lower seed winners: 9 Pittsburgh, 9 George Washington, 10 Arizona State, 11 Tennesse/Iowa, 11 Nebraska, 12 Harvard, 12 NC State, 14 NC Central

    Round 2
    lower seed winners: 5 VCU, 7 Oregon, 11 Tennessee/Iowa, 12 Harvard
    also has UNC beating NC Cenrtal for a 6 seed in the sweet 16

    Sweet 16:
    Florida over VCU, Syracuse over Kanas, Virginia over Harvard, Villanova over UNC, Arizona over SDSU, Creighton over Oregon, Louisville over Wichita State, and Tennesse/Iowa over Michigan

    Elite 8: Florida over Syracuse, Villanova over Virginia, Creighton over Arizona, Louisville over Tennessee/Iowa

    Definitely an interesting looking bracket

    • Bullets-and-Blazers!! says:

      Even though I repeatedly said that Iowa Stae will lose in the first round, since they won the Big-12 tournament, they are safe. Although…they did defeated Baylor…Missouri defeated Baylor in 2012 for the crown…NC Central plays well defensivelyUNC CAN defeat Iowa State (the same way Roy WIlliams defeat a talented Washington team back in 2011 tourney). I don’t see any 14 over 3 seed this tourney (unless Syracuse gives it to Western Michigan by benching Fair, Grant, Cooney and Ennis). UL-Lafayette has good offense, bad terrible defense. And since Creighton ranks number one in three-points in the nation, good luck UL-L! Mercer won’t do; they have good guards play and Duke can defend the perimeter.

      I find it very odd that somehow Tennessee has a very high pythag for an 11 seed. Can anyone elaborate on that?

    • Bullets-and-Blazers!! says:

      It is kinky though, that the legendary Committee has place many States teams to face each other or potentially face each other: Creighton/Nebraska, Wichita/KSU, St. Joseph/Villanova, UNC/NC Central, OSU/Dayton.

  10. Tommy says:

    And that’s missing what might have been the best matchup because it hasn’t happened in decades: Wichita State-Kansas. Thought for sure they might be 1-2 in the same bracket.

  11. Nik says:

    Looking back… your views on the curves and what could happen this year. Were fairly spot on! Well done, sir. This is something that I will definitely pay more attention to in the coming years. I took it in snippets… and just didn’t process it correctly (Took the wrong #2 seeds in the 2nd, the wrong 11’s in the 1st, etc…)

    • ptiernan says:

      I think the numbers were pointing to an upset-laden dance. And that’s what we have so far. Some of the low seeds, like Tennessee and maybe Dayton, showed Cinderella signs. Others, like Stanford, came out of the blue. It will be interesting to see if we get four more upsets to break the record for most in a 64-team dance. Thanks Nik.

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