2009 NCAA Tournament Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2009 NCAA Tournament Preview

Results of 10,000 simulations of the NCAA Tournament
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
March 16th, 2009

Need help with your bracket? If the WhatIfSports.com computer is right (like it was last season - more on that below), North Carolina will defeat UConn to claim this year's NCAA Tournament Championship. In fact, the computer makes the selection committee look brilliant, again giving the four top seeds the best chance to make the Final Four in each region. This prediction is definitely not boring though as upsets abound and the potential for a Cinderella (or a few) clearly exists.

WhatIfSports.com used its award-winning, free college basketball simulation technology (you could do this too) to attempt to forecast the future by simulating the entire 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament 10,000 times. Results of 2009 simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com and in the widget below. The widget allows you to pick your bracket based on the simulations. The most likely occurrence is already loaded, 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 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.

This analysis further allows us to determine exactly how great of a chance a team has of reaching any level in the tournament. In 2008, for instance, Bracket Preview gave Davidson a 14.1% chance of making the Elite 8. That may not sound very high, but that means that they were able to make that incredible run 1,410 times.

According to the computer output, the teams with the highest likelihood of being this year's Davidson (a double-digit seed that makes the Elite 8 or better) are 11-seed Utah State (16.6% chance of making the Elite 8), 10-seed Minnesota (11.9%), 13-seed Mississippi State (9.0%), 12-seed Arizona (8.2%), 10-seed USC (6.0%) and 14-seed North Dakota State (5.0%). Utah State and Mississippi State each win 0.6% of the championships, with Minnesota on the board with at least ten titles in 10,000 simulations as well.

This tournament is all about the first round and that is where we see the most expected upsets. Assuming Morehead State gets by Alabama State, every 16-seed has at least a 1.5% chance of pulling off the first ever upset of a top-seed. This year's West Region could look a lot like last season's Midwest with several first round upsets. Mississippi State over Washington (54.0%) and Utah State over Marquette (55.6%) are likely upsets, while 14-seed Cornell is a 40.5% favorite to defeat Missouri and 10-seed Maryland is a 40.2% favorite to defeat Cal. The only other likely (greater than 50%) upset in the first round is Minnesota eliminating Texas (55.5%).

The 5-seeds are actually fairly strong this season, with none projected to lose in the first round. The most likely 5 vs. 12 upsets are Western Kentucky (again) getting by Illinois 47.9% of the time and Arizona winning against Utah 46.1%.

Assuming it gets by a very good VCU squad, 6-seed UCLA actually has a very good chance of making a deep run. The computer puts the Bruins' chance at reaching the Elite Eight at 21.6%, higher than 2-seed Michigan State (18.4%) and 3-seeds Syracuse (21.3%) and Missouri (9.0%). Similarly seeded teams who could surprise are West Virginia (19.7% chance of making Elite Eight) and Clemson (18.2%).

Ultimately though, the WhatIfSports.com bracket concludes with the better seeded teams on top. UNC has the highest chance of winning the tournament at 21.6%. After the Tar Heels, only two teams, Pitt (17.3%) and UConn (14.3%) are in the double-digit percentages. Those top three teams are followed by two 2-seeds in Memphis (7.1%) and Oklahoma (5.9%) and then Louisville (5.8%), Kansas (5.1%) and Gonzaga (4.8%). Gonzaga was really unlucky. In any other region, it would be a likely Final Four team. While we see far more parity than usual among the Sweet 16 contenders, only eight teams have a realistic chance of winning it all.

Will the computer be right again this season? Will anyone be right? Who knows? But that is what makes this the Madness.

Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Product Manager for WhatIfSports.com. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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