March Madness, indeed. With so many top seeds stumbling during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the path to the Final Four has become a lot clearer for those who pushed through to the Sweet 16. Of the top 11 teams picked to win the championship in ESPN’s bracket challenge, six failed to make it through their first two games.
Among the departed: No. 1 Virginia (the first time a top seed has lost in the round of 64), No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 Cincinnati, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Arizona and No. 4 Wichita State. That opens the door for No. 4 Gonzaga (West), No. 5 Kentucky (South) and No. 7 Nevada (South) to make it as far as the Final Four. But no team has an easier path to the Final Four and beyond than No. 2 Duke (Midwest). Even with a potential matchup against No. 1 Kansas looming in the Elite Eight, the Blue Devils are the most likely team to be left standing at the end of the tournament.
Using the win probabilities that helped create the Perfect Bracket (which, like everyone else, had its troubles this weekend) and fuel DAViD, the Data-Assisted Victory Detector, the Blue Devils have a 62 percent chance of making it to the Final Four.
Duke, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, has a 15-point edge over No. 11 Syracuse and an average edge of seven points over the winner of No. 1 Kansas and No. 5 Clemson. Kansas has less than a two-point edge over Clemson and would be a six-point underdog to Duke if they meet in the Elite Eight. That’s almost a 27-point swing in Duke’s favor in terms of strength of schedule.
|Midwest||Make Final Four||Pomeroy rating||Edge in Sweet 16 (points)||Edge in Elite Eight (points)||Total edge through Final Four (points)|
|No. 1 Kansas||21%||23.5||+1.6||-6.1||-4.5|
|No. 2 Duke||62%||29.7||+15.0||+6.9||+21.9|
|No. 5 Clemson||11%||21.9||-1.6||-0.3||-1.9|
|No. 11 Syracuse||4%||14.7||-15.0||-8.0||-23.0|
The notable bit there is that Duke has an easier path to the Final Four than Kentucky, even though the highest seed the Wildcats could face this coming weekend is No. 7 Nevada. Without a top-four seed in its way, one would assume Kentucky has the easiest road to the Final Four, but the Wildcats’ chances are much lower (38 percent) and just nine ticks higher than that of No. 7 Nevada (29 percent).
The Wildcats, with a 21-point cumulative projected edge against their next two likely opponents, are a six-point favorite over No. 9 Kansas State (plus-15.3) and a five-point favorite against Loyola Chicago (plus-15.6). But first Loyola has to get past No. 7 Nevada (plus-18.6), against whom the Ramblers have slightly better than a two-point edge.
|South||Make Final Four||Pomeroy rating||Edge in Sweet 16 (points)||Edge in Elite Eight (points)||Total edge through Final Four (points)|
|No. 5 Kentucky||38%||21.0||+2.4||+5.6||+8.0|
|No. 7 Nevada||29%||18.6||-2.4||+3.2||+0.7|
|No. 9 Kansas State||14%||15.3||-0.4||-4.5||-4.9|
|No. 11 Loyola Chicago||19%||15.6||+0.4||-4.2||-3.8|
No. 1 Villanova has a 50/50 chance at making the Final Four from the East, with No. 2 Purdue its biggest rival left (29 percent). The Wildcats are torching opponents on offense (1.12 points per possession) while allowing just 0.76 PPP on defense. They’ve also shot 14 for 21 in transition, making them dangerous in the half court and on the break.
Villanova (plus-32, the highest rating among remaining teams) should be a 10-point favorite over West Virginia (plus-22.7), a five-point favorite over Purdue (plus-26.8) and at least a 10-point favorite over Texas Tech (plus-22.1). Their average edge heading into the Final Four is 17.3 points, second-best in the field.
|East||Make Final Four||Pomeroy rating||Edge in Sweet 16 (points)||Edge in Elite Eight (points)||Total edge through Final Four (points)|
|No. 1 Villanova||50%||32.2||+9.5||+7.7||+17.3|
|No. 2 Purdue||29%||26.8||+4.7||-0.6||+4.1|
|No. 3 Texas Tech||13%||22.1||-4.7||-5.3||-10.1|
|No. 5 West Virginia||10%||22.7||-9.5||-1.8||-11.3|
In the West, No. 4 Gonzaga has the edge on No. 3 Michigan despite a worse seed. The Bulldogs have dominated the low post (33 percent shooting against) and defensive glass (allowing just two baskets on only eight putback attempts by opponents), leading them to a plus-5 estimated point margin over the rest of the region.
In its matchup against Florida State (plus-17), Gonzaga (plus-24.5) should be a six-point favorite. The Bulldogs would be a seven-point favorite over Texas A&M (plus-18) and a two-point favorite over Michigan (plus-23.3). The Wolverines are three points better than the average team in the West, giving them Final Four chances of 35 percent.
|West||Make Final Four||Pomeroy rating||Edge in Sweet 16 (points)||Edge in Elite Eight (points)||Total edge through Final Four (points)|
|No. 3 Michigan||35%||23.3||+5.2||+2.5||+7.8|
|No. 4 Gonzaga||46%||24.6||+7.6||+4.4||+12.1|
|No. 7 Texas A&M||10%||18.1||-5.2||-2.7||-8.0|
|No. 9 Florida State||8%||17.0||-7.6||-3.7||-11.3|
Not only does Duke have the easiest road to the Final Four, it is also the most likely team to win the title (27 percent), followed by No. 1 Villanova (20 percent) and No. 4 Gonzaga (13 percent). The Cinderellas, No. 11 Loyola Chicago and No. 11 Syracuse, have championships hopes of 1.4 and 0.1 percent.
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