So far, so (pretty) good for the WhatIfSports.com computer that simulated the NCAA Tournament 10,000 times. Fourteen of the original most likely Sweet 16 and all eight of our likely Elite Eight teams remain in WhatIfSports' bracket. In fact, the two Sweet 16 teams still alive that were not in our original likely bracket, Arizona and Missouri, were given 21.4% and 25.9% probabilities of making it this far respectively - essentially the same one-in-four chance that any team would have if all teams were considered equal. In the first round, this analysis helped to foreshadow upsets as Western Kentucky (47.9%) over Illinois, Arizona (46.1%) over Utah, Wisconsin (33.1%) over Florida State and Cleveland State (29.8%) over Wake Forest were all still considered rather likely.
What is the computer saying now?
WhatIfSports.com again used its acclaimed college basketball simulation technology to attempt to forecast the future by simulating the rest of the 2009 NCAA Menís Basketball Tournament 10,000 times. North Carolina is still the slight favorite to defeat UConn and claim this year's NCAA Tournament Championship. Unlike our original prediction and last year's fluke, not all number one seeds advance to the Final Four as the numbers now suggest that Kansas will join UNC, UConn and Pitt in Detroit. A couple very close games in the upcoming round will definitely keep this tournament interesting throughout.
Results of the simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com and in the widget below. The widget is already loaded with the most likely occurrence from the Sweet 16 forward; but, if you want to change an outcome, the rest of the bracket will update accordingly with the new most likely teams advancing based on your changes. Just click on a region to get started.
Last year, this methodology correctly identified all Final Four teams, the finalists and the winner as of Selection Sunday. Davidson, Siena and Kansas State were double-digit seeds we expected to win that did. In the update published at this time last year (before the Sweet 16), Bracket Preview accurately predicted the winners of the final 15 games, including Davidson's Elite 8 run and Kansas' Final Four rout of UNC. Because it can account for the statistical interactions of all players on the floor at one time (and do so many times very quickly), simulation is the most comprehensive and accurate way to judge any sporting event. With our recent success of choosing Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl (by four points), the Phillies over the Rays in the World Series, the Celtics taking out the Lakers in NBA Finals (in exactly six games), Detroit over Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup (as of the end of the regular season) and last year's March Madness, we feel we have illustrated this power. Not only can we help you settle historical debates, we have a knack for predicting the outcome of future events as well.
Arizona, a 12-seed led by at least two future first round NBA draft choices in Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger, is the lone remainging double-digit seed capable of making a George Mason or Davidson-like run deeper in the tournament. According to the computer output, the Wildcats advance past Louisville and then either Kansas or Michigan State to the Final Four 10.5% of the time. That may not sound very likely, but it is exactly 15 times more likely to make the Final Four than George Mason was to make its incredible run in 2006.
Purdue, the only other "unexpected" (by seed, though we had them there) team to advance to the Sweet 16, has a more difficult path to the Final Four than Arizona. The Boilermakers have just a 19.6% chance of winning against UConn and making the Elite 8 and a 7.7% chance of advancing past Memphis or Missouri into the Final Four. Missouri, from the same region, is actually the least likely Final Four team remaining at just 6.8%.
As could be expected in this year's tournament, just one upset is likely in the Sweet 16. Defending champion Kansas is 68.7% expected to knock out 2-seed Michigan State. The Jayhawks are then the favorite to represent the Midwest in the Final Four.
While other Sweet 16 upsets are not expected, there should be several close games this Thursday and Friday nights. Duke is just a 50.2% favorite to defeat Villanova. The projected score for that game after 10,000 simulations is 76.6 to 76.4. Clearly, that could go either way. Both games in the South should be excellent with UNC eliminating Gonzaga 69.6% of the time and by just six points, 83-77, on average and Oklahoma outlasting Syracuse 63.3% of the time and by a score of 80-76.
Ultimately though, the WhatIfSports.com bracket concludes with the better seeded teams on top. North Carolina has the highest chance of winning the tournament at 19.2%. UConn (18.9%) and Pitt (18.4%) are close on North Carolina's "tar" heels as the only other teams with greater than a 10% chance to win it all. With strong wins over Morgan State and Michigan, Oklahoma has almost doubled its championship likelihood, improving from 5.9% last week to 9.8% now. Those top four teams are followed by Memphis (8.5%), likely Final Four team Kansas (7.6%), remaining one-seed Louisville (6.4%) and then Gonzaga (3.0%), Syracuse (2.1%), Villanova (1.6%) and Duke (1.2%). Getting all the way to and winning a championship depends quite a bit on who a team plays along the way, so things get much better for other teams like Xavier and Michigan State if they can get through the next round or two.
Next Monday, Bracket Preview will have Final Four boxscores, recaps and plenty of stats. Don't forget to come back and check those out. Enjoy the Madness!
Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!