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Artificial Madness: Simulating Final Scores for the South and West Regions Using Proprietary Model

By: Evan Boyd

Today would have been the second-most exciting day of the college basketball season, only behind… yesterday.

Instead of just imagining what March Madness would have been like, Stats Perform’s award-winning research group is simulating the final scores of our tourney matchups using a model it created with advanced data from our AI team along with other metrics.

We looked at half of the first round yesterday – now we’re sticking to the usual tournament schedule and simulating the second half of the first-round games today.

How are we running this? Our model takes that advanced data and calculates each team’s offensive and defensive ratings from the 2019-20 season. We are then also able to project scores of the matchups our model has produced from the seeding process that’s based on group tiers.

Keep in mind that there will be some variability, as we are running the model only once. This leaves room for upsets – just like there should be in March.

Think of it as a weighted coin flip, and the weights are the probability of each team winning. For example, Kansas has a 96.7% chance of beating Robert Morris, but Virginia only has a 55.9% chance of beating USC.

Below are also hypothetical scenarios on what might have happened in each game given the score:

South Region

You may think that this is too close for a 1 seed versus a 16 seed. However, our model predicted that Siena had a 13.1% chance of beating Baylor, by far the highest for any 16 seed in the tournament. Of the Bears’ four losses this season, three have come within their last five games. Perhaps stellar defense from Jared Butler and Freddie Gillespie halted any chance of the Saints pulling off the monster upset.

This was one of our favorite first-round matchups going into the tournament. We have Markus Howard, Division I’s leading scorer at 27.8 points per game, matching up with Jordan Ford, who averaged 21.9 points per game this season. Our model thinks that it would have been a close one, with the Gaels prevailing. We thought the score would have been close but a little higher, given that both teams would have shot the three well. Saint Mary’s ranked fourth in the country in three-point percentage (.396) while Marquette was 12th in the nation (.382).

A lot of brackets had Arizona as a 6 seed, perhaps even a 7 seed, but our model thought that the Wildcats deserved a 5 seed in the tournament. They proved worthy of that seeding by knocking off Yale, which dominated the Ivy League with good three-point shooting and depth. Arizona proved to be too talented with future NBA picks Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji.

Many people might have started ripping up their brackets after this one! The Zips were the favorites to come out of the MAC, led by former Illini coach John Groce. They take down the SEC regular-season champions, a team that had won nine of its last 10 games. This is the first time Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament but did not win a game since 2007-08. March is madness.

 

The Wolfpack carry their momentum from the First Four games and take down Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars! Houston went just 3-3 in its last six games, shooting only 37.0 percent from the field. Perhaps senior Markell Johnson outmatched Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes, or the Cougars got off to another bad start. Either way, NC State will move on and play…

Goodness, Creighton! From February 1 to the end of the season, the Jays shot 41.6 percent from three, best by any major conference team and sixth best in Division I. The Jays proved it against Bradley, a team that shocked mid-major fans by winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock make up one of the best trios from beyond the arc in the country.

Indiana pulls off the upset, but our model actually had the Hoosiers as the favorite over Auburn. Indiana had a 52.4% chance of winning this game, or a slightly higher chance than a normal coin flip. Our model did not like Auburn much at all, placing the Tigers at a 7 seed. Auburn played in five overtime games and won each one while also having close wins against Southern Alabama (70-69) and Vanderbilt (83-79). Auburn’s luck runs out, giving Archie Miller his first tournament win with the Hoosiers.

No surprise here. The Seminoles have tremendous depth with a bench that averaged 30.0 points, and they would never rely on one player for the bulk of their scoring. Leonard Hamilton likes using all of his guys, as shown by having seven of his players with over 500 minutes of action this season. Boston University had a great run in the Patriot League, beating Colgate in the conference championship game on Colgate’s home court, but the Terriers were no match for Florida State this time. However, Florida State now faces a rematch with Indiana, which beat the Seminoles by 16 at Assembly Hall in December.

WEST Region

Gonzaga outscored opponents by an average of 19.6 points this season, best in Division I. Thus, a 32-point win against the Norse is no big surprise. Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev each get double-doubles, and everybody changes the channel in the middle of the second half.

Though Colorado is the higher seed, it had a 42.5% shot at beating Providence, a team that ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak to sneak into the tournament. The Buffs went 4-1 in neutral-site games this season, including beating Dayton on a buzzer-beating three in Chicago. The tournament proves to be no problem for them, but they will have to play Gonzaga in the next round.

Cincinnati played more overtime games (seven) than any other team in Division I this season. Perhaps this game had free basketball, too. Jarron Cumberland and Tre Scott have been in the Big Dance before, so they had no pressure in knocking off a talented Butler squad. Kamar Baldwin may score half of Butler’s points in this game, but it was not enough. Man, seeing Cumberland versus Baldwin head-to-head would have been fun.

Stephen F. Austin has always been a good upset pick in March Madness. None of the team’s three tournament losses since 2015 were by more than 10 points, and in 2016, Thomas Walkup and the Lumberjacks beat 3-seed West Virginia by 14 points before losing on a last-second shot to Notre Dame. This season’s squad went 19-1 in the Southland and even beat No. 1 Duke on a crazy last-second layup. However, the Lumberjacks were no match for Ohio State this time, as the Buckeyes hit a bevy of threes to seal the deal in the second half. Our model had Ohio State with an 86.7% shot at beating Stephen F. Austin. The model really likes the Buckeyes, who could be headed for a Sweet 16 matchup vs. Gonzaga.

 

With NC State and Oklahoma winning, we have both 11 seeds that came out of the First Four earning first-round wins. Not only that, but the Sooners crush Iowa! Luka Garza is the only one who has a good game for Iowa, but it is not enough as Oklahoma catches fire from beyond the arc. This is an extreme outcome for the model – Iowa had a 58.5% shot at beating Oklahoma, so one would think that any Sooner upset would be a close one. It would be no surprise if Fran McCaffery got a technical foul in this one.

A close one for Oregon, as Belmont is able to force the Ducks on a few scoring droughts. But Payton Pritchard is just too much for the Bruins, hitting a few clutch threes as well as some free throws at the end of the game to seal the deal. Our model had Oregon with an 81.2% chance of beating Belmont, meaning that a close game is a bit of a surprise.

Two words: Ayo Dosunmu. Illinois’ leading scorer has hit clutch shots against Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin this season. With a four-point win against Richmond, we can imagine that he had another dagger against the Spiders. Kofi Cockburn goes for a double-double and the Illini get their first tournament win under Brad Underwood.

San Diego State’s loss to Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament title game cost the Aztecs a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, this ultimately might have been a good thing, as now they can come out of the West region instead of going all the way out East to play. Their first matchup against UC Irvine is not even close. Malachi Flynn goes for 30 and plays some tremendous defense along the way.

The first round saw three of the 11 seeds take out a 6 seed, with the lone 6 seed moving on being West Virginia, who barely survived against East Tennessee State. There were a few other crazy upsets, such as Akron over Kentucky and Cincinnati over Butler. But a couple of teams that might have been popular upset picks – Stephen F. Austin and Yale – went home early.

Just like the real March Madness.

Check back in Monday as we will simulate the second round of games with Artificial Madness! You can check us out @StatsBySTATS for the latest news and information in the sports world.