NCAA Tournament - They Blinded me with Science

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by - 3/19/2009 2:40 AM Share
The ability to picking brackets is as unsophisticated ever to the masses, but to serious folks like us who like to wager, this is far from just being a fun activity. We live for the action and more specifically, we hunt for winners and putting cash back in our AIG depleted coffers. While searching the internet, came across, by Peter Tiernan, who has been using stats to analyze March Madness for 19 years. After reading a few of his articles, I felt like Thomas Dolby from his 1982 hit and video - They Blinded me with Science.

I must say Mr. Tiernan's articles are not gambling related, however it is fairly simple to break done his analysis into useful information that any sports bettor could use.

In the simplest sense, underdogs are what every sports bettor is looking to find in the first round, because we could win with the points while the underdog loses the game or we could be fortunate and be in more comfortable position and have them win outright.

Among the profiles Tiernan refers to in teams that could pull upsets, is having senior guards. Obviously, the reasoning is these are seasoned players who have been through the wars of college basketball. Whether this is their first trip to the tournament or their last, they will want to perform at their highest level and have additional motivation of being the underdog.

In several cases, many of these players were not deemed "good enough" to play at larger schools for a variety of reasons, which could include height or presumed quickness inadequacies, thus extra desire to prove their critics wrong is just another log on the fire. The underdogs that have this type of guards are Morgan State, Western Kentucky, Temple, American, E. Tenn. State, Siena, Cleveland State and Chattanooga.

Looking further, he found No.12 seeds that were tourney tested and had won 70 percent or more of their games, were a good play if they had adequate frontcourt scoring. Western Kentucky was a 12-seed last year and upset Drake 101-99 in overtime on Ty Rogers ESPY winning buzz-beater.

Many have written off the Hilltoppers from pulling off another upset since they lost their dynamic backcourt from a year ago, led by first round NBA pick Courtney Lee and head coach Darrin Horn. Somebody forgot to tell holdovers A.J. Slaughter and senior Orlando Mendez-Valdez they weren't supposed to be as good. Frontcourt starters average over 32 points per game, meaning Western Kentucky at least has some punch to compete with No. 5 Illinois.

With the Fighting Illini fighting severe scoring droughts frequently, the Hilltoppers could pull the upset.

Two other 5 vs 12 matchups which should draw interest are Utah vs Arizona and Florida State vs Wisconsin. The No. 5 seed is only 19-13 SU in last 32 matchups, though have done better in recent years. The 5's are 11-5 and 10-6 against the spread since 2005. Arizona has ample frontcourt scoring with Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. In another article, Tiernan talked about these teams propped up against opponents with weaker guards, which Utah's are nothing special.

Wisconsin has Bo Ryan as coach which is a big plus, though this Badgers squad doesn't compare well with its predecessors. You can't possibly consider a backcourt with Toney Douglas playing being thought of as average and even though the Seminoles may have offensive weakness is other areas, Wisky would not be a resounding selection.

In looking at the higher seeds, the weaknesses of these teams may not play out immediately; however are worth contemplating. No. 2 seeds like Oklahoma have tended not to advance far, when they don't average 80 or more points per game and allow 65 or more. The Sooners come in at 79.2 scored and 67.8 surrendered on the year and are 2-4 and 1-5 ATS coming into the tournament.

Villanova is a three-seed and teams that have a scoring margin of less the 12 points (Wildcats +8.5) are far more prone to upsets than those that surpass that number.

Fourteen seeds that average over 76.5 points per game have placed pressure on three seeds, being able to win outright about a third of the time. North Dakota State fits this particular profile at 80.8 points per game and has loads of senior talent and is juxtaposed against the aforementioned No. 3's like Kansas, who have a scoring differential of less than a dozen points (+11.3). Syracuse is another three seed with scoring margin of only +8.8.

For all intents and purposes, 8 vs 9 meetings are two teams nearly even. What has been the difference in the past is tournament experience. Siena played in last year's tournament and surprised Vanderbilt and faces Ohio State who last played in 2007 championship game. Butler lost to Tennessee in the second round in 2008 and starts three freshmen, thus their edge over LSU is probably negated, having last played in the tourney three seasons ago. As mentioned, the Vols were in the last year's tournament, with Oklahoma State making return visit for the first time in four years.

It may not be science, but there are times those advanced math classes would have helped.
courtesy of

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