March Madness Rankings: Do the Math, People


For some reason–probably because they figure the tournament will settle the issue anyway– college basketball fans don’t pay attention to computer power ratings the way football fans do. The best power ratings around are Jeff Sagarin’s at USA Today, and a quick glance at his numbers gives some insight to the four leading questions being batted around after Selection Sunday.

First, one we’re seeing everywhere: Why was Oregon, with its 26-8 record, seeded no higher than 12th? Sagarin’s numbers, which are calculated to offer a neutral court power rating (as in “How would one team do against another team if they played on a neutral court?”), only places the Ducks at No. 47 in the country with a rating of 82.91. The tipping point is that their schedule was so weak: Taken together, their opponents average out to a power rating of 76.32, an unimpressive 93rd toughest schedule in the nation. The Ducks played only one game against Sagarin’s Top 25 teams for a 1-0 record, and against his Top 50 they were 5-2. (Sagarin ranks 347 Division I teams based on their performance against other Division I teams; no games against lower division teams are included, no matter how many points a Division I team beat them by.)

Another hot topic: Are the four No. 1 seeds legitimate? Stated another way, does Gonzaga really deserve to be a first seed? (I’m seeing this discussed on ESPN as I write.) According to Sagarin, the answer would be “Yeah, pretty much.” His top five:

1. Louisville (29-5) 95.01
2. Indiana (27-6) 92.48
3. Florida (26-7) 92.29
4. Kansas (29-5) 91.85
5. Ohio State (26.7) 91.42
6. Gonzaga (30-2) 91.20

The four No. 1 seeds in the tournament are Sagarin’s first, second, fourth and sixth, all separated by only 3.81 points. His No. 3 team is Florida at 92.29 and No. 5 is Ohio State, 91.42. So the tournament’s No. 1 seeds are fairly solid, and the difference within his power ratings all fall well within the margin of error.

A third question is: Did the Southeastern Conference get the short end of the stick? And the answer is: This isn’t football. The basketball claim for the SEC stems largely from Kentucky being the defending national champion. But the Wildcats weren’t “snubbed” this year. Sagarin rates them no better than No. 37, and while a tournament invitation wouldn’t have been a terrible decision, there’s no compelling reason for it, either.

Florida, according to Sagarin, is deserving of something better than its No. 3 seed. But after Florida, his second highest-rated SEC team is Missouri, No. 16 (23-10, 87.26), followed by Ole Miss at No. 28 (26-8, 85.03).

So, the answer is no, the SEC did not get shafted.

The last question: Which conference is the strongest? Sagarin’s top five:

1. Big Ten
2. Big East
3. Big Twelve
4. Atlantic Coast
5. Mountain West

The SEC only ranks seventh.

Finally, does Louisville deserve to be the favorite to go all the way? And the answer is yes. The Cardinals, Sagarin’s No. 1, are slightly more than 2.5 points ahead of No. 2 Indiana, a big gap between the top two teams. And while there may be skeptics out there, we have a feeling that anyone who watched Louisville dismantle Syracuse on Friday night would not be among them.


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