Need help filling out your March Madness bracket? (Part 2)

Here’s Part 1, in case you missed it.

Now that we’ve narrowed the field from 65 to 32, it’s time to tackle the second round and beyond. When filling out your bracket, it’s not a bad idea to start with your Final Four picks and work backwards. I looked at the last six Final Fours to get an idea of the profile of a FF team and discovered the following:

22 of 24 FF teams (92%) finished the tournament with adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies (i.e. points per possession adjusted for strength of schedule) in the top 30 (LSU ’06, George Mason ’06).
Here’s the list of teams that qualify heading into 2010: Duke, Kansas, Ohio St., Syracuse, West Virginia, BYU, Wisconsin, K-State, Kentucky and Texas. I’ll include Georgetown as well since their ranked #33 in defensive efficiency and could climb into the top 30 by tourney’s end.

22 of 24 FF teams (92%) finished the tournament with a Pythagorean win ranking in the top 10 (#23 George Mason ’06, #14 Villanova ’09).
Win percent can rise about a hundredth of a point over the course of the tournament. (Last year, Michigan State started at .943 and finished at .954 and Villanova went from .929 to .938.) So looking at the Pomeroy numbers, we should be looking at the top 12 teams — Duke, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio St, Syracuse, Kentucky, BYU, WVU, K-State, Maryland, Georgetown and Baylor — as potential FF teams.

21 of 24 FF teams were in top 7 in either offensive or defensive efficiency (George Mason ’06, Michigan State ’09, Villanova ’09).
Here are the teams that are in the top 10 in either efficiency: Duke (both), Kansas (both), California (off), Notre Dame (off), Baylor (off), Maryland (off), Ohio St. (off), Villanova (off), Syracuse (off), Georgetown (off), Florida State (def), Temple (def), Purdue (def), Wisconsin (def), Tennessee (def), Clemson (def) and Kentucky (def). I’d include WVU (11th – off) and BYU (12th – off) as well because they would likely finish in the top 7 with a FF run.

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Hundreds of writers will write hundreds of columns/articles/posts about the 2010 NCAA Tournament, so you may be wondering, why should I listen to this clown?

In 2007, I picked the winner (Florida) along with one other Final Four team (#2 seed Georgetown). In 2008, I picked the winner (Kansas) along with two other Final Four teams (#1-seed UCLA and #1-seed North Carolina). That was enough to line my pocket with a little cash from a pool each year.

2009 was another story. Even though I am on record saying that if Ty Lawson’s toe were 90-95% healthy that North Carolina would have been my pick, I ultimately didn’t have enough confidence in Lawson’s health — special thanks Dick Vitale for calling it “cartoonishly” swollen, stoking my fears — to pick the Tar Heels last season. I picked only one Final Four team (#1-seed UConn) and my winner (Pitt) lost in the Elite Eight to Villanova.

Still, there is a method to March Madness. First, I pull in Jeff Sagarin’s regular season rankings. I also consider Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency stats, along with his Pythagorean win percentage.

Over the last three years, teams with a 3+ point advantage in Sagarin’s “predictor” rating have won 116 of 141 games (82.3%). In 2009, if a team had at least a 65% expected win rate according to Pomeroy’s Pythagorean calculation, they won 33 of 40 games (82.5%). So I won’t stray too far from these two indicators if they both agree that a certain team is going to win.

But not every game is so clear cut. Over the last three years, if there were 141 games that had a Sagarin favorite of at least three points, that means that there were 48 games that did not. My research has found that a Sagarin advantage of 0-2 points yields a 17-21 record and an advantage of 2-3 points yields a 5-5 record, so if the Sagarin advantage is fewer than three points, the game is basically a toss up.

For these games, I’ll look at other factors, like location of the game, offensive and defensive efficiencies, matchups, injuries, current play, and how each team fits the Giant Killers profile. In short, if a game is a toss up, it pays to go with the underdog because most people are going to go with the favorite.

So enough with the preamble, let’s dive right in.

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