Yesterday, I attempted to identify which past dance the 2014 tourney most resembled. Based on the seed quality curves, it looked like 2006 and 2011 were the closest comparisons. Both of those dances were particularly mad. 2006 featured the George Mason Cinderella run with no top seeds in the Final Four. 2011 was 19.8% crazy on the Madometer scale and tied the record for upsets with 13. That should scare everyone.
Today, I want offer some insight into which of the four regions is likely to blow up like last year’s West region. That was the quadrant where Wichita State upset Gonzaga on their run to the Final Four. It included five of last year’s 11 upsets, including the 3v14 Harvard win over New Mexico, the 4v13 La Salle win over Kansas State, the 5v12 Ole Miss victory over Wisconsin, along with the Shockers 1v9 and 2v9 surprises.
I took the Pythag values of the top 14 seeds for every region in the 2014 tourney, then I overlaid the same numbers for the 2013 Shocker bracket. Here’s a handy animation, cycling through the curves every five seconds:
First, I’ll make a few observations about each region, then I’ll compare them to the havoc that was the 2013 West:
2014 South: The top seven seeds are slotted in fairly orderly fashion. Five seed VCU is a tick better than UCLA, but nothing is really glaring here until the whipsaw that is #8 Colorado versus #9 Pittsburgh. After that, the 10-14 seeds descend in keeping with their efficiency numbers. Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble pulling the trigger on any 4v13, 5v12 of 6v11 upsets in this region. I’ll say this: you do have the second weakest four seed and the nearly the strongest 13 seed (Manhattan’s Pythag is .0003 better) in the UCLA/Tulsa match-up. And I might consider a 1v8 upset, given Pitt’s unusually high Pythag. But then again, it’s Pitt. And it’s Jamie Dixon. And I said I would never get burned by the Panthers again.
2014 East: This region features the second weakest one seed and the second strongest four seed. No wonder people are leaning toward Sparty in a potential 1v4 match-up. Villanova rates out as the toughest two seed, and they could be on a collision course with the weakest three seed in Iowa State. UConn is the toughest of the four seven seeds, so they might be an intriguing second-round upset pick. As for the 5v12 and 6v11 match-ups, unlike the South, this region may be ripe for surprises. While Cincy and North Carolina are the second strongest five and six seeds, Providence is the second toughest 11 and Harvard is far and away the best 12. Looking for a big shocker? North Carolina Central is easily the toughest 14 seed and ISU is the weakest three. Hmm…
2014 West: With the strongest one seed and the second weakest two in Wisconsin, it’s no wonder people can’t figure out anyone else to advance here but Arizona. On top of that, you have the weakest four and second weakest five in San Diego State and Oklahoma. Trouble might loom on the other side of this region, where Creighton is just a hair behind Duke for the mantle of best three seed. And the Badgers’ weakness as a two may open the doors for Baylor or Oregon. They aren’t the strongest six and seven seeds, but they’re right in the mix. The unsual strength in this region comes at the eight and nine positions. Both Oklahoma State and Gonzaga look to be formidable second-round opponents for Arizona. Maybe that—and Marcus Smart—is why so many people are wondering about a Cowboy shocker over the Wildcats.
2014 Midwest: The weakest one, the weakest two, the strongest three and the strongest four. That just begins to explain the craziness that is the Midwest region. The majority of pundits are tabbing Louisville to beat Wichita State and reach the Final Four. And why not? Look at the gigantic disparity in numbers. We’re talking about the second most efficient team in the country. But that might not be the only craziness to ensue in this region. First of all, Kentucky’s the best eight…so a second-round match-up with the Wildcats is no cake-walk for the Shockers. And look at how pathetic the five through seven seeds are. Yes, NC State is a weak 12…but they looked pretty dang good last night. And Tennessee is off the charts are an 11. The 7v10 game looks like a toss-up too. In the second round, should the Vols advance, they could pose problems for either Duke or Michigan, two teams that don’t defend well. Tennessee’s offensive efficiency isn’t great (29th in the country), but they’re the 13th best defense. Could be scary for Blue Devil and Wolverine fans.
Comparing the regions to the 2013 West Shocker: What distinguished last year’s West explosion was a set of great 11-13 seeds and better than average 8-10 seeds. No single region can claim the same make-up in 2014. The East may have the best 11-12 pairing in Providence and Harvard and it also features a weaker one and soft three seed. The Midwest has decent 11-12 seeds and woeful fives and sixes. Then there’s the whole “one-seed-in-disguise” factor with Louisville and the unusual strength of Kentucky. The other region that could blow up, not so much in round one round two, is the West. I think Wisconsin is a weaker than average two seed, with a solid three in Creighton and intriguing six and seven seeds in Baylor and BYU.