Sweet 16

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The Prophet looks at the NCAA Sweet 16

One of the strange conundrums of my career as a sports handicapper is that I get my best ideas and information from non-sport sOurces.  That’s not as surprising as it sounds–so much of the sports media is “rah-rah” type stuff geared to fans and lacks the sort of critical and analytical thought necessary to be of value to the sports investor.  That’s also why the one newspaper I read every day is the Wall Street JOurnal.  Last Friday’s WSJ had a quarter-page analysis of the NCAA basketball Tournament that packed more salient information and solid analysis into that small space than the USA TODAY or some local fishwrap could come up with in their entire sports section.

The Wall Street JOurnal article specifically addressed the historical performance tendencies of #1 seeds in the Sweet 16 and beyond.  Now everyone knows that a #1 seed has never lost their opening round Game, meaning that 100% of #1 seeds have advanced to the second round.  Once they get to the Sweet 16, being a #1 seed starts to mean less and less as the Tournament progresses.  69% of #1 seeds advance to the “Elite Eight” which is historically a pretty impressive number.  At the same time its also significant to note that with all Four #1 seeds still alive in the Tournament this means that from a statistical standpoint one of them is very likely to lose their next Game.  Now this doesn’t mean that one of the #1 teams is “due” to lose or that they will lose (though I’m sure that some boiler room tout will try to sell this as a “perfect never lost system”).  What it does mean is that should all Four #1 seeds advance to the Elite Eight that its a historical anomaly from a statistical standpoint.

It’s also interesting what happens at the Elite Eight stage–historically 42.9% of the #1 seeds have made it to this point.  At the Elite Eight stage, #1 seeds have a 62.1% winning percentage, meaning that once a #1 seed gets here its got a solid shot of making it to the Final Four.  The performance of #2 seeds drops off significantly, and the only have a 47.4% winning percentage at this stage of the Tournament.  What makes the statistical performance of #2 seeds somewhat odd is that the winning percentages of teams seeded third through fifth is for all practical purpose the same as the #1 seed (it’s actually slightly better at 62.2%).  Or, to put it another way, the higher seeded teams usually take care of business at this stage of the Tournament except for the #2 seeds.

The article also makes an observation about what they call the “giant killers” of the Tournament.  Lower seeded teams that have beaten a #1 seed in regional play from 1985 to 2005 have gone on to make the Final Four 76.2% of the time.  This tendency seems to buttress the old conventional wisdom that certain teams can “get hot” at the right time and run that momentum to the Final Four.

Drilling down further in the #1 seed statistical performance shows that 42.9% of all #1 seeds make it to the Final Four, 22.6% make it to the Final Game and 14.3% win the championship.  Overall #1 seeds have a .796 winning percentage in all Tournament Games.  While the WSJ’s point was the success of #1 seeds in the Tournament, from a handicapping standpoint this reveals the significant wagering opportunity presented by going against #1 seeds at this point of Tournament.  With Four #1 seeds remaining–all favored in their next Games–the fact that the historic data suggests that only one will be around for the NCAA Final Game should make the astute handicapper take notice.  All Four of the 2006 #1 seeds are far from dominant and each have vulnerabilities, so there’s an excellent chance that they’ll “play to form” this season.

So don’t be nervous about going against one of the top seeds as the Tournament progresses.  I’ve already identified one #1 seed that I’ll be playing against in the round of 16 and there’s a good chance there will be another.  I’ll definitely send the #1 “go against play” I’ve already come up with to the free play mailing list, so if you want to get this play sign up for the list.

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