Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 15, 2010

Paths to the Final Four

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:35 pm

As an addendum to this morning’s post on the importance of seeding, how about the most difficult and easiest paths to the Final Four? (By the way, the reason I’m ignoring Final Four is that, no matter how much people on TV may scream about how Syracuse should have been the second or third No. 1 and not the fourth No. 1, there’s not much evidence those rankings make any difference by that point. For that matter, I couldn’t even find any order from last year other than Louisville as the overall No. 1, which shows how much people cared then.)

This is a little more complicated than just adding the ratings of the opponents, because for an elite team the difference between playing a .450 team and a .550 opponent in the first round is fairly meaningless. So I brought back the log5 method and assumed each schedule would be played by a .950 team–about the level of West Virginia this year. The rankings are ordered by the odds of that team reaching the Final Four based on the actual opponents faced by each team from 2006-09.

The easiest trips:

Team          Yr   Sd   Rd 1   Rd 2   Rd 3   Rd 4    Tot

UCLA          06    2   .438   .859   .860   .950   .275
Louisville    09    1   .528   .820   .871   .954   .269
Kansas        08    1   .634   .874   .892   .949   .236
Connecticut   06    1   .595   .916   .938   .909   .215

Lo and behold, by the numbers it was actually a No. 2 seed that had the best time of things, and it had little to do with upsets. Instead, the issue is Gonzaga’s low ranking by Pomeroy’s metrics in 2005-06, one Ken has already disavowed. I watched that Elite Eight matchup, and you probably did too. There was nothing easy about it, though in Memphis the Bruins got a relatively light No. 1.

Louisville makes more intuitive sense. The Cardinals did not face a team seeded better than ninth until last year’s regional final, when they were knocked off by Michigan State. Kansas faced 12th seed Villanova and 10th seed Davidson in the regionals, though the Pomeroy ratings agree that by that point the Cougars were a difficult foe. Lastly, Connecticut drew No. 11 George Mason in the regional final–but famously could not beat the Patriots. So much for schedule.

The hardest draws:

Team          Yr   Sd   Rd 1   Rd 2   Rd 3   Rd 4    Tot

UCLA          07    2   .377   .952   .957   .984   .052
Missouri      09    3   .684   .929   .977   .975   .054
Xavier        08    3   .804   .939   .950   .983   .056
Memphis       07    2   .409   .864   .978   .981   .058
Texas         08    2   .465   .901   .958   .986   .062
UNC           07    1   .401   .954   .938   .979   .074

UCLA shows up again. The Bruins had a tough second-round game against Indiana in 2007, then faced a brutal Kansas team in the regional final but came away victorious nonetheless. So much for schedule. Missouri last year had back-to-back games against No. 1 seed-quality teams in the regionals, beating Memphis before losing to UConn. Xavier had a very challenging first-round foe in the Georgia team that won the SEC Tournament but was seeded 14th, then couldn’t overcome a tough UCLA squad in the regional final.

Memphis in 2007 came up against two tough teams in the regionals, including an Ohio State squad on its way to the title game. There’s a similar story for Texas the following year, when the team bound for the title game was … Memphis. Lastly, the 2007 Tar Heels faced the toughest slate of any No. 1 seed, getting a very difficult second-round draw against Michigan State before finally falling in OT against a Georgetown team that easily was No. 1 seed quality.

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