Told You So: Kansas and Memphis To Play For National Championship

Exciting times here at Merrill Park Superstar headquarters, as with wins by the Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks in Saturday’s National Semifinals, the wacky formula that we’ve been working on throughout much of the 2007-08 college basketball season is actually starting to look like a pretty useful tool for predicting the likely outcomes of college games.

The wacky formula, which as press of time lacks a more clever name or even a more descriptive name, has correctly projected the Final Four (not a big stunner) and the teams that are to compete in the National Championship game on Monday. It also had Davidson reaching the Elite Eight. The big issue I found with that bracket, which you can view here, is that the formula called for a lot of first round upsets that didn’t pan out.

I actually kind of saw that coming before the tournament began, though, and decided that I needed to modify the formula a bit. As mentioned in this post, I noticed last year that the Pythagorean theorem of basketball was fairly reliable in predicting the tournament. Whereas the wacky formula figured North Carolina and Kansas would end up in the finals, Pythagoras did a little bit better, forecasting a Florida-Texas A&M showdown. The Gators, of course, went on to win their second straight NCAA Championship a year ago.

I made the decision to “pool” the two metrics. My metric, as I have explained before, focuses more on the all-around performance of a team. It encompasses scoring offense, scoring defense, offensive and defensive rebounding, rebounding differential, turnovers and takeaways, and several shooting percentages, among other measurable quantities. Pythagoras, on the other hand, only takes into account the points scored by and against a team and produces an expected winning percentage based on those numbers. My idea was to multiply the results of my formula by a team’s Pythagorean winning percentage and fill out a bracket with that information. The results of that decision can be viewed here.

Sure enough, the marriage of the two metrics has proven pretty effective. While a bracket filled out based purely on the Pythagorean record would have resulted in 46 correct picks out of a possible 62 thus far in the tournament, the incorrect picks have been more costly than in the “formula” brackets. As such, the “pure formula” and “pure Pythagoras” brackets are each valued at 128 points in the standard bracket scoring system (first round win = 1 point, second round = 2 points, Sweet Sixteen = 4 points, and so on through the 32-point championship game). The formulaic “marriage,” meanwhile, holds a value of 131 points and has correctly forecast 44 games (right around the 70 percent mark mentioned in the linked post).

Of course, you could’ve gleaned most of this information by snooping around this blog a little bit. I fully understand this. So, in an effort to produce a little bit of fresh content in this post, I decided compare Kansas and Memphis’s tournament performances using the formula to see if their post-season performance has made the Tigers any more likely to upend the Jayhawks than they had been when the playoff began.

The short answer is yes, Memphis has a better shot at beating Kansas than it did when the tournament began, statistically speaking. Using the numbers accumulated by each team during the 65-team playoff, the “pure” formula gives the edge to the Tigers. However, the two formulas that have been more reliable, percentage-wise, in picking winners in this tournament favor the Jayhawks. Kansas’s Pythagorean win percentage in five tournament games is .979, while Memphis stands at .953. It is likely this disparity that causes Kansas to be a very slight favorite in the “married” formulas.

I think it’s also important to note that, in a close game, Memphis’s suspect free throw shooting may not be as big a factor as some may make it out to be. The Tigers have been downright competent at the line in this tournament, making over 70 percent of their shots from the charity stripe. Interestingly, the Jayhawks have made just a shade under 66 percent of their free throws on the Road to the Championship, which is down from their season average of 70 percent.

Still, that’s a very small sample size to judge from, and if you look at the body of work from the entire season, the Jayhawks look to be the favorites, statistically, to capture the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, with all three formulas preferring Kansas to Memphis.

Aside from all of my brackets having Kansas cutting down the nets, I don’t really have a horse left in this race. I was sort of pulling for North Carolina, if only so I could tell people that I had seen the nation’s very best and very worst teams play in person during the 2007-08 college basketball season. Actually, that nicely sets up a little rant I’ve been sitting on since early in the second half of tonight’s Kansas-North Carolina game:

Tyler Hansbrough is going to be a complete bust as a pro, and if he has any sense at all, he’ll stay at North Carolina and cling to every last bit of relevance he’s able to squeeze out of being an incredible college player. The alleged National Player of the Year was routinely outplayed tonight by a freshman, and that freshman’s name wasn’t Kevin Love or Michael Beasley — both of whom will be much better pros, by the way — it was Cole Aldrich, who averaged 2.7 points and 2.9 boards in 8.1 minutes per game this year. This is not meant to take away from Aldrich in any way, incidentally, but Hansbrough is supposed to be the player of the year. Shouldn’t the player of the year be the guy stepping up for his team in the big spot rather than the guy desperately flopping around like a slightly bigger version of Manu Ginobili? I had absolutely no problem paying to see Hansbrough and North Carolina play in person earlier this year, but I’d be hard pressed to plop down any significant coin for tickets to see Psycho T play in the NBA. The fact that so many college basketball announcers have taken to emphasizing his intangibles and hustle is particularly worrisome. Not that I put a lot of faith in what sportscasters have to say, but surely the national player of the year should be a little better than the David Eckstein of men’s collegiate basketball.

Like I said, stay in school, T. Work on that jump shot, and maybe you’ll turn yourself into a decent 3 in the traveling circus known as the National Basketball Association.

Okay. Now that I have that out of the way…

Well, I’ll just wrap it up. I’ll probably have a follow-up post of some sort on Monday night. Until then, please check out my day-by-day predictions for Major League Baseball games. I’m making an effort to pick the winners of every game this season, with the goal being that my winning percentage is higher than the top team in the recently pitiful National League Central. Seriously, I thought this would be a good idea at one point. Anyway, I’m not faring all that well right now, but hey, it’s a long season, right?

I’ll also probably try my hand at cracking the NHL playoffs early in the week. Spoiler alert: That’s unlikely to be nearly as successful as my college hoops or even NFL exploits.

Okay, I’m rambling. Time to just end it. Thanks for reading! Enjoy the game on Monday, and, as always, feel free to add comments should the mood strike you.

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