Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Visualizing the NCAA Tournament

With the football season over we're going to take a quick detour into the NCAA tournament and our hobby of using treemaps to visualize projected performance. This year we'll be using Nate Silver's tournament projections as the basis for our charts. Below we provide a region-by-region breakdown of the expected number of games that each team will win.

Even though there's been a lot of talk about how great Syracuse is, the numbers paint a slightly different picture here. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, and even Michigan and Purdue took turns beating each other up this year. Usually there's talk of how fierce the Big East is, but this year you could use the same narrative for the Big 10. Silver projects that Ohio State will win 3.31 games, while the top-seeded Orangemen will be lucky to win more games (2.27) than four-seed Wisconsin (1.86). Expect a brutal Sweet Sixteen matchup, with Ohio State waiting in the wings.

The Midwest is much more of a two-horse bracket, with the Tar Heels and the Jayhawks the two clear favorites. In fact Carolina's expected number of wins (3.07) is only a shade ahead of Kansas' (2.93), while being a clear head-and-shoulders above Michigan (1.35). Meanwhile, 6-seed San Diego State will be lucky to get out of the first round, with a total expected number of wins barely cracking "mediocre" (0.56). The Aztecs may have gone 26-7, but it wasn't enough to impress the computers. Meanwhile major conference mid-pack teams like Purdue and North Carolina State look ready to advance to the round of 32 (0.91 and 0.90 expected wins, respectively).

On the 20th anniversary of "The Shot", the selection committee was clearly trying to set up a rematch between Kentucky and Duke. The problem is that this bracket really is Kentucky and the 15 dwarves. The Wildcats are clear favorites (3.86 expected wins) ahead of Duke (2.34) and Baylor (1.75). In fact their biggest challenge is likely to come in the Sweet Sixteen in the form of the Wichita State Shockers (1.36 EWs), a team that at least one computer rates as superior to Duke. Note to selection committee: next time put Duke as a 4-seed against Kentucky; this will nearly double the odds that they'll meet.

And finally, the west. This is the bracket with the highest degree of parity: two-seed Missouri is the favorite with 2.55 EWs, followed by #1 Michigan State (2.19), #3 Marquette (1.69), #4 Louisville (1.46), #5 New Mexico (1.43), and #8 Memphis (1.30). The Tigers actually have the best odds of any 8-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, and are the fifth-most-likely team to disrupt the chalk in that round behind [S5] Wichita State, [W5] New Mexico, [E5] Vandy, and [E6] Cincy.

Keep checking as the tournament progresses. We'll be updating these graphs and merging them as the games are played.

Update: For anyone who's heard all those statistics about how much productivity will be lost during the tournament and how difficult it is to get a perfect bracket, here's all the data (complete with attempts at citations) in one convenient yet monster chart from

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