Niagara Gazette

Sports

March 20, 2014

LINDLEY: Filling out a bracket? Trust the stats

Niagara Gazette — The NCAA Tournament is a great event because fans get heavily involved in trying to pick the winners. They invest time and money in trying to make sense of 67 games.

Nobody gets them all right – Warren Buffett didn’t make his billions by placing sucker bets – but selecting the survivor of three weeks of play can be done.

There is no guaranteed way of picking winners. Some like going with the coolest mascot or neatest uniforms. Analyzing records and statistics may be a better option.

Here’s a valuable nugget: Nine of the past 11 champions entered the field as a No. 1 seed. That means this year’s beauty pageant comes down to Virginia, Florida, Wichita State and Arizona.

Another way to predict the eventual champion is looking at one phase of the game: Nine of the past 11 national champions ranked among the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to college basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy. That’s an assessment of how many points a team scores, on average, per possession. Among the top seeds, Wichita State comes in 8th and Florida 16th. Creighton, a third seed, is tops in the country.

As one would expect, tough defense is another key. Using the same adjusted factor for limiting the opposition’s ability to score, Pomeroy finds Arizona at 1st, Virginia at 3rd, Florida 5th, Louisville 6th and Wichita State at 10th.

Winning the championship means rolling off six victories over three weeks, generally against good-to-tough competition. This requires a balance of depth and star talent.

Strength of schedule offers a glimpse of how well teams are prepared. None of the top seeds could be accused of burdening itself with an unbearable schedule. Arizona’s ranked 13th toughest, according to Pomeroy, with Wichita State’s coming in at 128th. Of the teams voted into the tournament, Kansas’ schedule was the toughest. Wisconsin’s was 3rd and Michigan’s was 5th.

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