Friday, March 13, 2009

7 to 10

So that's the range most "bracketologists" have the UW men's basketball team falling into, when the NCAA tournament seeds come out on Sunday. (See here for a handy synopsis.) Right now, most of the prognosticators seem to have UW as a 9 seed. And history shows that that would be, well, unfortunate. An explanation requires us to think about how the brackets actually look.

In each of the four regions, the 9 seed plays the 8 seed in the first round. So, usually this will be a decently tough match-up with another team that's relatively even with your squad. And the statistics bear this out, as the results of that game are pretty even (9 seeds have won 52 8/9 games; 8 seeds have won 44 of these games). The problem is that the winner of this game plays the winner of the 1 v. 16 seed. Considering that no 1 seed has ever lost in the first round, winning this game is a near lock to face one of the top four teams in the country. This sounds tough, and history shows that it has been-- 8 seeds have managed to beat 1 seeds 20% of the time, but 9 seeds have beaten 1 seeds only 6% of the time. Ouch. And that's currently where UW is projected to be seeded.

(UW has had mixed results with this seeding. In the 2000 Final Four year, they were an 8 seed, and beat 1 seed Arizona in the second round. In 1994 though, the Griffith/Webster/Finley/Stu Jackson year, they won their 8/9 game, and then got bounced hard by 1 seed Missouri.)

Thus, the far preferable option would be for UW to dodge a 1 seed for as long as possible. Given UW's resume, a 7 seed seems to be the highest they could reach. A 7 seed plays the 10 seed in the first round, and the winner of that game plays the 2 seed (unless a 15 plays an upset). As you'd expect, 7 seeds beat 10 seeds most of the time (62% of the time). But oddly, 10 seeds, if they manage to advance, are historically far more likely to beat 2 seeds than 7 seeds are. Namely, 10 seeds have beaten 2 seeds 44% of the time. 7 seeds have beaten 2 seeds 29% of the time. Thus history says that being a 10 seed might actually improve UW's chances of making the Sweet Sixteen, more than being a 7 seed. Weird, huh?

So as a UW fan, where does this leave us? Obviously, you want UW to win every game, especially against other douchey Big Ten teams that nab our recruits (cough, Evan Turner, cough; yes, I'm bitter). But if UW wins today and goes out and loses to Sparty, probably nothing changes. They stay an 8 or 9 seed. If they win today, beat Sparty or the Goofs tomorrow, and make it to the finals of the Big Ten tournament, I think there's a decent chance they could get bumped to a 7 seed. That would be excellent. But then again, history shows that UW might be best served by being a 10 seed. That would require losing to The Ohio A&M College today, most likely, something that would place UW, in my opinion, squarely on the bubble again. And nobody but some typically spastic Buckeye fan would want that. But still, there's your silver lining if Evan Turner, BJ Mullen's struggling goatee, and Coach Matta and his Judge Alvin Valkenheiser nose (yeah, I'm referencing the worst Chevy Chase movie ever) manage to take the Badgers this afternoon.

Note: statistics were derived from this extremely helpful website.

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