Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dr. Brackets Is Back To Guide You To Office Pool Victory

Courtesy of Gold And Gopher.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! March Madness springs anew on Thursday morning, and Dr. Bruff is back again with 10 hot tips, tricks, and fun facts to help you vault over those jerks in your office bracket pool (FEEL THE HOT STEEL OF MY STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT DATA, DARREN FROM SALES).

I must lead with the disclaimer that I am not an actual doctor. I have friends who are doctors, but that in itself does not make one a doctor. In truth, I’m as much a doctor as Dr. Drake Ramoray from
Days of Our Lives, or that guy that stayed at a Holiday Inn Express that one time.

But I do love working with big sets of data. And I’ve built a pretty good one over the past 6 years, scraping a bunch of statistical info from a lot of different places about how NCAA teams have performed leading up to the start of the tournament. If the sage wisdom of the multiple regression can help you win a few bucks, then the work is all worth it. So let’s get to it:

1. The hometown team is back in the tournament for the first time since Tubby’s Last Waltz in 2013 after an excellent season and a marvelous turnaround from last year’s disastrous 8-win campaign. It’s hard to make an argument that the Gophs are not overrated; efficiency metrics detail that we’re the worst 5-seed (and it’s not particularly close). And Minnesota’s been paired against the best of the 12-seeds.


That said, it’s not like Minnesota is a heavy underdog in this first-round game; it’s basically a coin flip. And if we can get by Middle Tennessee, the match-up with Butler (the worst of the 4-seeds) is favorable for a team with stout interior defense like the Gophs. I will be picking against the Gophs in my “Cold Hard Facts” bracket, but will have them in the Sweet 16 in my “Best Case Scenario” bracket.

The Bromans, probably prior to this year. Courtesy of the Salvation Army.


There’s also a bevy of local kids on other teams throughout the bracket; when the Gophers aren’t on, you may want to root for some of them. Minnesotans are among the leading scorers for Xavier (F J.P. Macura) and Nevada (G Marcus Marshall). 15-seed North Dakota features five Minnesotans on their roster. And Winthrop features Duluth’s own Broman brothers, Anders and Bjorn. Marcus Fuller from the Star Trib has
even more Minnesotans for you to catch.

2. When putting together your bracket, you want to be different. Be a little unique. You don’t finish in the money if you just pick along with the consensus. So it’s important to pinpoint which teams have been overvalued and undervalued by the Selection Committee, and also to check the stats for who the seething masses have overrated and underrated.


Plus, you want to pick a couple teams that you think would be fun to root for, because lest we forget, the next few weeks are all about fun.


A few mid-major teams are perpetually undervalued by the Committee. St. Mary’s and Wichita State were again egregiously underseeded; the stats dictate that St. Mary’s may deserve to be a 3 or 4 seed, and Wichita State deserves a 4/5/6 seed instead of the 10 seed they received. Wisconsin also has a legitimate gripe; my model has them as the 16
th best team in the tournament, but they were saddled with an 8-seed, in line for a 2nd-round match-up with the tourney’s best team, Villanova. SMU and Cincinnati are two 6-seeds that should have been 4’s or 5’s, instead of, say, Butler or (ACK) Minnesota.


The two most overseeded teams are both Big Ten schools: Maryland and (gulp) Minnesota. Also, Arizona just won the Pac 12, but probably aren’t deserving of a 2-seed. And Kansas and Kentucky should essentially be flip-flopped.


3. Injuries/suspensions always play a big role in a team’s early-round viability (see my last-second “Hawaii over Cal” 13-over-4 upset alert once it became known that two of Cal’s best players would be out with injuries). The best teams can still make deep runs while missing a key component—see Duke’s 2015 title run, which took place after Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed from the team in late January.


More recent injuries suffered by players on mid-seed teams are the ones to watch out for in your bracket. These are the teams that often haven’t had the time to figure out how to efficiently integrate new players or schemes into their rotations. And if the injuries occur late enough in the season, the advanced analytics haven’t been allowed to gather enough data to effectively “price in” a key player’s absence to his team’s route through the tournament.


Some of the injuries you should know about this year are below, and keep in mind: injuries to point guards and big men often hurt the most in March.


PG Edmond Sumner—Xavier (2
nd-leading scorer)
C John Egbunu—Florida (5th scorer and biggest interior presence)
F/C Michal Cekovsky—Maryland (5th scorer, lanky 7-foot 3-point gunner)
G Eron Harris—Michigan State (3rd scorer)
G Kenny Williams—North Carolina (6th scorer)
PG Maurice Watson—Creighton (2nd scorer and was the NCAA’s assist leader pre-injury)
C Chris Boucher—Oregon (3rd scorer, another big guy with good outside stroke)
G Akeem Springs—Minnesota (5th scorer and only senior in their rotation)



Akeem lost the...Springs...in his step. And the author realized this wasn't a good time for a pun. Courtesy of the Star Tribune.

4. One of the old clichés about March is that you win with good guard play, and the stats largely bear out that steady point guard play is particularly essential for a deep tournament run. In fact, 18 of the last 20 Final Four teams, and each of the past five champions, has featured a point guard that averages at least 3.8 assists per game.  The only two Final Four teams that didn’t feature a “floor general”…both, arguably, had two of them (Traevon Jackson and Bronson Koenig for Wisconsin ’15, and Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige for North Carolina ’16).


Teams with a floor general win an average of 1.22 games in the tournament; teams without one only win 0.7 games. That’s why it’s important to note which teams are missing this piece to their tournament puzzle. This year, the top teams that lack a floor general are Duke, Purdue, Maryland, and Creighton.


5. Teams that make deep runs are usually those who are both efficient and multi-faceted on offense, and stout on defense. Seven teams over the past five years have entered the tournament with top-10 ratings in both offense and defense, per Ken Pomeroy and his excellent site kenpom.com. All seven of those teams won at least three games in the tournament. This news bodes well for the only team who can claim a top-10 O and D this year…Gonzaga.


6. One new finding this year involves pinpointing which of those 5/12 and 6/11 match-ups feature the high-seeded teams most ripe to be upset. Small sample size alert, but over the past five years, I’ve found that 5 and 6 seeds that are quite good defensively but struggle to maintain high efficiency on offense are MUCH more susceptible to the early upset than those with good offense but questionable defense. So which of this year’s 5- and 6-seeds fit the profile to have their nice defensive numbers undone by one hot-shooting mid-major opponent?

(Gulp)…unfortunately, Minnesota does. To a lesser extent, Virginia does as well.



Look for Vermont to (Cata)mount a tough challenge against Purdue. Courtesy of FCAIC.net.

7. This is my favorite fun fact, and unfortunately, it’s the one item within this article that I’m pretty sure won’t hold up next year. But hell, I enjoy it, so it’s worth bringing up. Since 2012, every team that has had a 20-win streak at some point in their season—provided they didn’t play the #1 EASIEST schedule in the entire country—has won at least one game in the tournament.

You might think, that’s not very impressive, the only teams good enough to have 20-game win streaks are probably all 1- and 2-seeds. Not so! This fun fact includes a 6-seeded Murray State team from 2012, 12-seeded Stephen F. Austin from 2014, and FOURTEEN-seed SFA once again last year!

So which teams have strung together 20-game streaks this year? 1-seed Gonzaga, sure, but also 13-seed Vermont and 14-seed New Mexico State! Am I picking Vermont to upset Purdue in the first round solely because I love this stat? YOU BET YOUR ASS I AM! (Sadly, New Mexico State lost its 2nd-leading scorer Sidy N’Dir to a season-ending injury two weeks ago. Though if they somehow find a way to knock off Baylor…)

8. Most of the big metrics predictors had last year’s champs, Villanova, as the 5
th- or 6th-best team going into the tourney. But advanced statistical site 7 Overtimes called it dead-on, as their formula had Nova #1 overall before the tourney started.

Who does 7 Overtimes like this year? Their top team going into the First Round is…Gonzaga. Other notes from their ratings: They have SMU as the 9
th-best team in the country, ahead of potential 2nd-round opponent Baylor and potential Sweet 16 foe Duke. Also, according to this site, Middle Tennessee is the 12th-best team in the country (ACK AGAIN!!!)

9. “So hey man, what makes your bracket-pickin’ ability so special?” you may be asking yourself. Truthfully, I can only reply, not much. My data-centric bracket only finished in ESPN’s 45
th percentile last year. That’s what happens when your pick to win it all (Michigan State) goes down in the first dang round (I can’t remember, but I may have mentioned earlier that Middle Tennessee, who beat the Spartans in Round 1 last year, is causing me some consternation again this year.)

But hey, I have a lot of fun making and tweaking my own statistical model, and all this pre-tourney research does help dig up some nuggets of wisdom that I hope helped people make a few of last year’s tricky picks a little bit easier.

Not the original Stephen F. Austin. Probably a big fan of his, though. Courtesy of the Indy Star.
In last year’s “Tips and Tricks,” I said that Oklahoma’s quadrant of the bracket was, save for Oklahoma, absolute butt. And look who made the Final Four! I also said Yale and Arkansas-Little Rock were the best of the 12-seeds, and they both knocked off their first-round opponents. And I doubted Stephen F. Austin, a 14-seed, even as I mentioned their winning streak, and what do they do? Knock off 3-seed West Virginia and almost beat Notre Dame in Round 2! So all was not frowns and consternation in Dr. Brackets’ world last year.



10. So who exactly do I have pegged as the top teams this year? Well, every year I construct a very intricate point system based on a multiple regression model that accounts for multicollinearity wherever possible. And my high-tech, super-statsy model spit out the finding that this year’s best two teams are…the defending champs, Villanova, and the #1 team in the polls for much of the year, Gonzaga. Wow, who saw that coming.

But the model also had other interesting findings, some of which I’ve already listed above. The model told me that it’s not insane to pick a couple 13-seeds to beat their 4-seed opponents this year. It told me that Saint Mary’s is probably the best team in their half of the West region. And it told me that Kansas is probably going down relatively early.


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But the overall lesson from the 1,900 words you just read? To win your bracket, use some common sense, a couple tips from above that speak to you the most, but above all, be a little different and have some fun with it. For instance, I will never pick Duke to win it all, even in my “Stats Are Terrific” bracket, because Duke blows. So make your own rules, get your brackets submitted, and relax as the Madness wash over you. And GO GOPHERS!

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