Over the next couple of days, I will be posting previews of each NCAA tournament bracket region, with numbers based on 10,000 simulations of the NCAA tournament based on the final T-Rank adjusted efficiency ratings.
We'll be starting things off with the Midwest region because, let's face it, there's not much drama here. Kentucky is going to the Final Four again. Here are the numbers:
|15||New Mexico St.||13%||3%||1%||0%||0%||0%||0.17|
The Favorite: Kentucky
T-Rank gives Kentucky almost a 2-out-of-3-chance (63 percent, to be exact) of getting back to the Final Four. This is an unprecedented number. I have a database of tournament simulations (using end-of-season Kenpom ratings) going back to 2002, and before this year the most likely team to reach a Final Four was Kansas, in 2008, at 57.3 percent (2005 Illinois is second, at 57.0 percent). Kentucky's 4.01 expected wins are also the highest number in my database.
Notably, however, Kentucky's 30 percent chance to win it all is not particularly exceptional. Both 2008 Kansas and 2005 Illinois had 30 percent chances of winning it all (although they probably wouldn't have been quite that high using pre-tournament numbers). As good as Kentucky is, there are several other remarkably accomplished teams in the tournament -- Wisconsin, Villanova, Duke and Arizona all have profiles that would frequently qualify them for the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Indeed, Arizona is undoubtedly the best, most accomplished No. 2 seed in the history of the tournament.
But none of those teams are in the Midwest, of course, which means Kentucky probably won't face a stern test until the third weekend of the tournament.
The Upset: Texas over Butler
There aren't any first-round games that jump out at me as obvious upset specials in this bracket. But this 6/11 matchup in the Midwest should be a good one. Butler has been one of the bigger positive surprises, ever since beating North Carolina and Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and then keeping it up with a solid 12-6 campaign in the Big East.
Texas was a surprise in the opposite direction. The Longhorns started out ranked in the top 10 and won 14 of their first 15 games (with the only loss coming to Kentucky). Since then, however, they have struggled against quality competition. On the season, Texas went just 4-11 in Tournament Quality Games.
So, why is this the upset special? Well, turns out Butler was not so great in Tournament Quality Games either, going 5-8 overall. Texas is a team with a lot of size and talent, and its record may be deceiving. T-Rank has the Longhorns at No. 18, actually ahead of Butler (No. 20), and other computer rankings agree (Texas is in the top 20 in Kenpom and the Sagarin ratings as well).
All in all, I think this should be a toss-up of a game, which means I'm pulling the trigger on the No. 11 seed.
The Sleeper: Wichita State
Wichita State isn't going to sneak up on anybody anymore, but this year's No. 7 seed is not actually much worse, on paper, than last year's No. 1 seed. The Shockers are a top-20 T-Rank team and they are down there in the bottom half of the bracket, safely shielded from Kentucky until the Elite 8. They are set up for an epic second-round matchup against Kansas in Omaha, and I really like the Shockers' chances if that game should occur. Also, wouldn't it be great to see them try to get revenge against Kentucky for ruining their perfect season last year?
Second Round: Kentucky, Kansas, Notre Dame, Maryland, West Virginia, Texas, Wichita St., Purdue
Round of 32: Kentucky, Maryland, Notre Dame, Wichita State
Sweet 16: Kentucky, Wichita St.
Elite Eight: Kentucky