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RESEARCH: Method to the Madness of March


blog-details-usercaitlin lohrenz

blog-details-eye-slashMar 17, 2016


Tomorrow is the day we’ve been waiting for. Tulsa is currently tied with Michigan with 17:00 remaining to play. I have no dog in this fight (nor does my mother, the President at Davidson), and yet here we are screaming at the TV arguing about these teams, their conferences, and the NCAA in general. I am invested and it’s only the first four. March Madness gives sports fanatics (like myself) an opportunity to care, REALLY care, about teams like Northern Iowa, but it also gives math enthusiasts (not to say that he/she is not also a sports fanatic… guilty, again) a chance apply concepts, algorithms, and models to an entirely new domain.

HERE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO TO EASE SOME OF THE PRESSURE KILLING YOU RIGHT NOW – PICK THE UPSETS IN EACH ROUND BEFORE THE ROUND BEGINS (and maybe, just maybe, if you are nice to us (retweet, mention, link to us) share with you our BRACKET).

Tresata’s Chief Research Officer, Dr. Tim Chartier, is known for applying his mathematical expertise to the Madness (or ‘Mathness’, as he calls it) of March. In our previous blog, we debuted our first round of “Tresata Tourney Tips.” With tournament play approximately 12 hours away it is time to finalize your last, and hopefully best, bracket. As a Tar Heel alum, basketball will always be more than numbers, data, seeds, calls, RPI, efficiency, inconsistency, or size. It is also the tension, the adrenaline, the passion and the excitement of the whole event.  However, as Basketball Christmas Morning approaches (and yes, I already got what I wanted … #1 seed!),  the 14 years (2002 to 2015) of carefully curated and investigated data we have spent hours querying with Tresata’s OPTIMUS is the only thing lowering my blood pressure.

Bracketology is religion; you have to feel it for yourself. As we present our predictions for the following first round upset teams remember, HERE IS SOME ADVICE – above all else don’t lose your LOYALTY to your school…and trust your gut.  Also, these predictions are for fun and not dogmatic (hence the ‘Madness,’ people).


Wichita St. (11) over Arizona (6)

Coming off an overtime loss to #1-seed Oregon for the Pac-12 title means Arizona is desperate for the W. In the same vein, Wichita St. just shut out the Commodores (Vanderbilt) for a spot in the tournament. Momentum is hot both ways.

Based on our Tresata Tourney Tips (t3 for short), consider this:

  • Arizona has beaten 4 of the 6 in-conference teams it lost to (the only exceptions being Oregon (1) and Utah (3))
    • USC (8), Cal (4), UCLA, Colorado (8)
  • Arizona did lose to a then unranked Providence (9) 69-65 during out-of-conference play
  • Wichita State held Vanderbilt’s offense to 25 points below their average
  • Wichita State lost to common opponent USC by only 3
  • Wichita State beat Utah (3) by 17 points … a team Arizona was not able to defeat

Overall: Almost equal to the 12 seeds, 11 seeds have won 35% of the matchups in the last 31 tournaments… Arizona has the strength of schedule, but does Wichita have the defense to dominate?

Our Pick: The momentum of the underdog will carry Wichita State.


VCU (10) over Oregon St. (7)

The VCU Rams may play dirty, but there is no denying their talent (Mo Alie-Cox anyone?). Oregon State, however, has faced and defeated Oregon (1), Utah (3), and Cal (4).

Per our Tresata Tourney Tips look at VCU’s out of/in-conference play:

  • VCU’s close call defeat against Duke (4)
    • Only lost by 8; Duke’s win came from the free throw line
    • 44 points in the paint vs. Duke’s 24
  • VCU’s second close call against Wisconsin (7)
    • Only lost by 1
    • Forced 17 turnovers (most since 2013 for Wisconsin)
    • 39 points from Rams bench (depth, depth, depth)
  • VCU’s Blowout win against Buffalo (9)
  • VCU’s telling repeat in-conference play
    • VCU capable of beating all the teams they lost to including St. Joe’s and Dayton (who are both seeded higher)
    • HUGE Talent in Mo-Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson

Also at play:

  • Oregon State’s first tournament game since 1990
  • Oregon State missing leading scorer Tres Tinkle due to shoulder injury
  • Oregon State’s inconsistency during in-conference play

Our pick: The ‘Havoc’ of the VCU Rams will win out.


Pittsburgh (10) over Wisconsin (7)

The game of the “roller coasters.” Both Wisconsin and Pittsburgh have had devastating losses and thrilling wins this year. Will we see the Pitt that led Duke (5) to a 14 point loss? Will we see the Wisconsin that only scored 48 points against Oklahoma?

As mentioned in the Tresata Tourney Tips, consider both team’s losses:

  • Wisconsin – Big Losses (score diff >=10)
    • Oklahoma (2 Seed) – (65 – 48)
    • Michigan State (2 Seed) – (69 – 57)
    • Purdue (5 Seed) – (91 – 80)
    • Georgetown – (71 – 61)
    • Nebraska – (70 – 58)
  • Wisconsin is ranked 67th offensively and 24th defensively. They also ranked 342nd in tempo.  They focus more on building a strong defense and slowing the tempo of the game down.  This benefits Pittsburgh because they are ranked 32nd offensively and 300th in tempo.  They are comfortable playing and scoring at a slower pace.
  • Pittsburgh Close Losses (score diff <10)
    • Miami (3 Seed) – (65 – 63)
    • Louisville (67 – 60)
    • Virginia Tech (65 – 61)
    • Georgia Tech (63 – 59)
  • Of their 11 losses, 7 of the winners were held to less than 70 points. Furthermore, Pittsburgh was able to beat Duke (4) and Syracuse (10).  The combination of Wisconsin’s slow tempo and Pittsburgh’s ability to prevent their opponents from scoring may result in a win for Pittsburgh.

Our pick: The struggling, but resilient Pittsburgh Panthers.


Gonzaga (11) over Seton Hall (6)

The Zag’s are looking to make their 15th first-round tournament win out of (now) 18 appearances. Not to mention they are fresh off a win over St. Mary’s number 1 offense. Seton Hall, despite its youth, has proven to be a competitor after winning the Big East (over Villanova (2).

Consider Gonzaga’s out-of/in-conference play:

  • Out of conference play
    • Gonzaga vs. Texas A&M (3 seed)
    • only lost by 1 point with 12 ties and 7 lead change
    • Gonzaga’s big man Domatas Sabonis had foul trouble and the Zags missed key free throw shots — problems easily fixed during the season
  • Gonzaga vs. UCONN (#18 at the time, now 9 seed)
    • 73-70 win
    • outscored the Huskies bench 24-16; 4 players in double figures
  • Repeat in-conference play
    • Lost to 2 conference teams: BYU and St. Mary’s
    • Replayed these teams and beat them
    • Mary’s was #1 seed in the West Coast Conference; Gonzaga beat them to win conference

Also consider,

  • Gonzaga is on a hot streak (won last 5 games)
  • Seton Hall has beat Villanova (2), Xavier (2), Wichita State (11), and Providence (9)
  • Seton Hall has not been to the Dance since 2006

Our pick: Between these two underrated teams, we have to go with the veteran. Go Zags!

And yes, come Round 2, we will keep making predictions that may invite the wrath of some, but ease the pain for others…

As they say – if you are not first …you’re last…