The Five Stages of Bracket Grief

  1. Denial and Isolation: “What? Duke lost? No way. That’s got to be wrong.”
  2. Anger: “Damnit! Why the Hell did I pick them in the Final Four anyway!? Coach K did this on purpose to mess with me!”
  3. Bargaining: If only I’d factored in Duke’s ten-year PASE and watched a few more of their games.”
  4. Depression: “Aw, what’s the use? I’ll never figure out this stupid bracket thing.”
  5. Acceptance: “Oh well, crazy sh*t happens. Where’s that link to the round-by-round challenge?”
Posted in General News | 19 Comments

A decade of Duke woes…

With its startling loss to Mercer, Duke has now fallen short of seed-projected win totals in eight of 10 tourneys. And they’ve added to their record as upset victims, with 11 crushing losses. The next most shocked team is Oklahoma, with nine upsets.

I did a quick calculation, and Coach K’s PASE will go down to around +.304. That’s still overachieving…but it’s just 21st best of the 99 active coaches with three or more appearances.

More alarming: in the last ten years, Coach K’s PASE is a woeful -.810–nearly a game per dance below expectations. That would rank 97 out of 99, better than only Frank Haith and Oliver Purnell. Ouch! Blue Devil nations is hurting…

Posted in Measuring Madness, Upset Spotting | 4 Comments

Round 1 Forum, Friday games: “POP” go the brackets!

Pop! That was the sound of millions of brackets getting busted across the land–including my Keeper bracket. The is the eighth year in 10 tourneys that Duke has failed to meet seed expectations. And Duke is the all-time victimized school, with Cinderellas knocking them off in 29 years. Recent crushing losses include:

  • 2014 – 3v14 loss to Mercer
  • 2012 – 2v15 loss to Lehigh
  • 2008 2v7 loss to West Virginia
  • 2007 6v11 loss to VCU

For anyone thinking that All-American Jabari Parker would be the difference in this game, he was. Only in reverse. Duke played better when Parker wasn’t on the floor.

Posted in Bracket Forums | 47 Comments

2014 wrap-up: maddest dance, most upsets in 30 years


UConn’s victory over Kentucky on Monday made official what we already knew: this year’s tourney broke 30-year records for the highest level of unpredictability and most upsets.

Before this year, the record Madometer reading was 20.8% deviation from perfect high-seed dominance, set in 2013. One dance later, the record now stands at 21.4%. And before the Shabazz Shocker, there were five tournaments with 13 upsets (seed gap between opponents of four or more). 2014 saw 15 upsets. It takes some serious craziness to reach that level, particularly since the later rounds usually feature so few games with upset potential.

We’ve now seen the Madometer reach record levels in three of the last four seasons. In fact, the last five years have easily been the craziest of the 30-year 64-team era. In the first 25 years of the modern bracket, the average dance deviated from higher-seed perfection by 13.6%. In the last five years, that deviation is 19.2%, more than 40% wilder. Coincidence? I don’t think so. There are lots of reasons to explain it: one-and-done, rise of the Mid-Majors, the three-point equalizer, the vanishing big man, mis-seeding mayhem, the perils of parity,  havoc of shifting rules. It reads like a list Hardy Boys titles.

I’m not quite sure what the real reason is for the Madder March Madness, but I do know this: it’s going to make filling out your bracket that much more difficult. About the only thing I got right this year was my December prediction that the tourney would be crazier than ever. That and my assessment, after comparing the 2014 quality curves with past tourneys, that this year most resembled 2011. I just didn’t know how much it would resemble that year. Kemba Chaos morphed into Shabazz Shock.

The bracket models took a beating. Even the best one, “Coaching + Efficiency” would not have won a pool. Heck, you would’ve done about as well as Nate Silver by just picking the higher seed in every match-up. And you would’ve trounced KenPom and ESPN BPI. Maybe when every single ESPN analyst picked MSU to cut down the nets, we should’ve known that something strange was up. Here are the final results of the models:

  • 85.7% – 4 Coach+Efficiency
  • 80.7% – 13 Nate Silver
  • 77.6% – 8 Baseline
  • 69.4% – 16 Keeper Small
  • 69.4% – 5 Pulse Check
  • 69.4% – 7 Upset/Toss-up
  • 62.1% – 2 Final Four/Champ
  • 62.1% – 0 From the Gut
  • 46.9% – 1 KenPom
  • 43.2% – 11 ESPN BPI
  • 39.7% – 9 Seed Match-ups
  • 33.3% – 3 Outcome Match
  • 27.4% – 6 Factor PASE
  • 24.8% – 15 Billion Dollar
  • 22.3% – 12 Contrarian
  • 16.0% – 14 Brackomatic

All in all, 2014 was one nutty year. We could pass it off as an outlier and go back to our conventional ways of predicting the tourney. But given the last five seasons of madness, I don’t think that’s the right approach. I have seven months now to ponder the results and come out with a new way of looking at the tournament. As rugged as this year was, I’m looking forward to trying to make sense of it–knowing that I might never get there.

Thanks, everyone, for thinking alongside me.

Posted in General News, Measuring Madness | 59 Comments

Round 1 Forum, Thursday Games

Member BD suggested that I open a forum to discuss the results of each round. Good idea. So far, three models have pegged the two upsets: F4/Champ, Seed Match-ups and Upset/Toss-up. The Billion Dollar bracket is done. That was fun. Right now, the Madometer reads 46.4%. Crazy mad. But it’s early.

Posted in Bracket Forums | 21 Comments

Four facts about the tourney field

Now that the final 64 teams have been set for the dance, I looked at the averages for the tourney field. Four things stood out:

  1. The average coach has been to the Elite Eight 1.52 times. That’s the highest in the 29 years of the 64-team era.
  2. The average team has come into the tourney with a 2.44-game winning streak. That’s the highest since 2002. This number is greatly influenced by the long streaks of Wichita State (34), Stephen F. Austin (28), Florida (26) and North Carolina Central (20).
  3. This is the highest scoring tourney field (74.4ppg) since 2003. So the NCAA got their wish when they changed the rules to favor offenses.
  4. This field hasa margin percentage (average margin/points allowed) of 12.6%. That’s the lowest since 2004, which means the field plays tighter games.
Posted in Tourney Trends | 1 Comment

Cheat sheet for making last-minute toss-up game decisions

The toughest games to pick in the tourney are what I call toss-ups. Toss-up games pit teams within three seed positions against each other. About one-third of all tourney games in the 64-team era (615 of 1827, 34%) involve toss-up pairings. The higher seed tends to prevail in these match-ups, compiling a 337-257 record for a 57% success rate (21 games involved same-seeded teams).

That’s not exactly a percentage you want to take to the bank. So if seeding can’t provide solid guidance on who will prevail in a toss-up game, are there any other individual stats that can? Does having a more experienced coach increase a team’s likelihood of winning a toss-up game? What about being higher scoring…or having a tougher schedule…or having better momentum?

We examined each of the 615 match-ups across 20 statistics to identify the advantages that pointed to the largest separation between winners and losers. If you could only crutch on one chart to make your toss-up picks, this would be it; here are the round-by-round records of teams with certain advantages over their opponent:


Posted in Bracket Tools | Leave a comment


I just posted the final 16 models, including my new Keeper Small Pool and Billion Dollar brackets.

There has been one HUGE CHANGE overnight based on the results of last night’s Tennessee win. Louisville leapfrogged Arizona in KenPom Pythag efficiency ratings. It has affected the outcome of model #1, but none of the other models that factor in KenPom numbers.

The final models are under the TIPS+ section and they’re called “2014 Models FINAL.”

Posted in General News | 34 Comments

Cranking up the Madometer to measure the 2014 tourney madness

Veteran members are no doubt familiar with the graphic below, but unless newcomers have dug deep into the blog, they won’t recognize the Madometer gauge at the top of the blog.

The Madometer is a simple metric I devised to measure the madness. It works by calculating the seed-position differences between actual winners and perfect high-seed success or failure throughout the dance. If the higher seed advanced in all 63 games (perfect sanity), the cumulative seed value of the winners would be 203. If the lower seed always advanced (sheer madness), their cumulative seed value would be 868. The difference between the two—665—is the predictability range.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2013 dance, the craziest in the 29 years of the 64-team era. If you added up the seed positions of all the teams that advanced through the tourney, the number would come to 341, certainly closer to perfect seed dominance (203 positions), but still 138 positions toward madness along the 665-point predictability range. That works out to a Madometer reading of 20.8%. To put that number in context, the average tournament in the modern era has deviated from by-the-seed results by 14.3%.

The 20.8% Madometer reading makes 2013 the most unpredictable tourney since the field expanded to 64 teams. Before last year, the craziest dance occurred in 2011, when tourney advancers deviated from perfect high-seed dominance by 19.8%. You have to go all the way back to 1986 for third most unpredictable tournament, when the Madometer hit 18.8%.

You could pass it off as coincidence that the two wildest dances have occurred in the last three years. But the fact is, we’ve seen four straight dances that were well above average madness. 2010 and 2012 saw 17.1% Madometer readings, tying them for the eighth craziest tournament out of 29. Take a look at how the last four years stack up against the other 25 dances on the Madometer:


Once the tourney tips off on Thursday, I’ll be posting the Madometer gauge at the end of every evening. Generally speaking, the Madometer shoots up in the first couple rounds, then settles down. Unless this dance is like last year’s craziness. Can’t wait to see.

Posted in Measuring Madness | 3 Comments

Which region is most likely to blow up?

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.

Posted in Bracket Tools, Measuring Madness, Tourney Trends | 16 Comments