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March 17, 2009
The Essential Bracket Previews
East and Midwest

by John Gasaway

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I'll be honest: Last week wasn't a good one for log5 probabilities. (What is a log5 probability? Start here. Basically each number below indicates a team's probability of reaching a given round of the tournament, with the number in the rightmost column showing their chances of winning the national championship.)

If you missed it, Ken Pomeroy and I conscientiously posted probabilities for no fewer than nine conference tournaments. The actual results? Well, um, we got Memphis right! Yes, I'm proud to say we knew in advance that a team that hasn't lost a league game in three years would probably win a conference tournament that's being played on its home floor. That's the kind of leading-edge, ultra-advanced analysis you can only get from us, folks!

I know I've said this before, but conference tournaments are strange. It's not just the games on consecutive days or the thorough, indeed almost queasy, familiarity with the opponent. Mostly, I think, it's the fact that teams have wildly differing motivations, from "We have a one-seed locked up, let's just make sure nobody gets hurt," all the way to "We have to win this whole thing to get to the NCAA tournament."

Starting Thursday at noon Eastern, however, all 64 teams (it will be down to 64 by then) will have precisely the same motivation: win or go home. For half of those 64 teams, here are their chances.

East Region

Seed                 2ndRd   Swt16   Elite8   Final4   Final   Champ   
 1  Pitt             93.89   72.07    53.80    31.84   17.88    8.76
 2  Duke             95.80   71.85    42.02    24.37   12.77    5.78
 6  UCLA             81.30   54.29    30.48    17.40    8.95    3.97
 3  Villanova        87.23   37.90    16.53     7.40    2.87    0.93
 4  Xavier           86.67   49.16    17.98     6.69    2.30    0.66
 12 Wisconsin        53.03   26.47     8.51     2.77    0.83    0.20
 7  Texas            57.73   17.34     6.20     2.23    0.67    0.17
 8  Oklahoma St.     50.00   13.42     6.38     2.00    0.58    0.14
 9  Tennessee        50.00   13.42     6.38     2.00    0.58    0.14
 5  Florida St.      46.97   22.13     6.58     1.98    0.54    0.12
 10 Minnesota        42.27   10.31     3.02     0.89    0.22    0.04
 11 VCU              18.70    6.34     1.55     0.39    0.08    0.01
 13 Portland St.     13.33    2.24     0.21     0.02    0.00    0.00
 14 American         12.77    1.47     0.17     0.02    0.00    0.00
 16 E. Tenn. St.      6.11    1.08     0.18     0.02    0.00    0.00
 15 Binghamton        4.20    0.49     0.03     0.00    0.00    0.00

Pittsburgh has a 32 percent chance of getting to Detroit. What does that mean, exactly? It means Jamie Dixon's team is solidly in the one-seed mainstream: not the single most likely top-seed to get to Motown (see below), but not the least likely either.

Over the past 36 hours everyone and their cousin has solemnly intoned that the Panthers "would not be a good matchup" for Duke. Well, everyone and their cousin is right. Pitt wins by scoring more points than you can and the Blue Devils, while putting up some points themselves, struggled a bit on D late in the regular season. That being said, don't look past a potential Sweet 16 Pitt/Xavier game. Talk about strength on strength: the Musketeers have one of the finest interior defenses in the country.

Elsewhere we find that a second-round game in Philly between UCLA and Villanova should be a viewer's delight, assuming the Bruins are able to navigate their way past Eric Maynor and VCU. Ben Howland's team scores points on a level up there with Pitt and North Carolina, while you'll probably find that 'Nova did that whole consecutive 100-point-games thing right there in that very City of Brotherly Love. It would be an up-tempo game between two skilled teams, one where you could throw a stick at the court and hit about eleventy-jillion outstanding guards. Hope along with me that it comes to pass.

East fun fact: The 8-9 game between Oklahoma State and Tennessee is literally a coin toss, with each team having a 50.0 percent chance of moving on to the second round.

Lastly, the percentages urge you to cast aside those quaint bourgeois relics of social convention known as "seeds." Take Wisconsin, albeit by a whisker, in the 12-5 game against Florida State.

Midwest Region

Seed                 2ndRd   Swt16   Elite8   Final4   Final   Champ   
 1  Louisville       97.08   79.85    59.05    36.91   17.73    9.98
 6  West Virginia    87.30   54.03    34.68    18.97    8.09    4.09
 2  Michigan St.     91.16   62.57    29.62    14.04    5.00    2.15
 3  Kansas           80.62   39.24    22.85    11.12    4.09    1.81
 4  Wake Forest      75.11   45.20    17.41     7.59    2.33    0.87
 5  Utah             57.67   28.56     9.32     3.44    0.87    0.27
 10 USC              65.49   26.35     8.96     3.10    0.75    0.23
 8  Ohio St.         62.82   14.11     6.06     1.87    0.38    0.10
 12 Arizona          42.33   17.90     4.80     1.46    0.29    0.07
 7  Boston College   34.51    9.46     2.07     0.47    0.07    0.01
 9  Siena            37.18    5.67     1.76     0.37    0.05    0.01
 13 Cleveland St.    24.89    8.34     1.57     0.33    0.04    0.00
 14 North Dakota St. 19.38    4.02     1.06     0.22    0.03    0.00
 11 Dayton           12.70    2.71     0.60     0.10    0.01    0.00
 15 Robert Morris     8.84    1.61     0.14     0.01    0.00    0.00
 16 1stRd Winner      2.92    0.37     0.03     0.00    0.00    0.00

When we unveil the bracket probabilities for the South and West tomorrow, you'll find there's only one team in the entire field that's more likely to make the Final Four than is Louisville. (No, that team is not a one-seed. Any guesses?) The Cards have better than a one-in-three chance of getting to Detroit, meaning the committee did its job pretty well: the overall one-seed has a relatively smooth path laid out for it.

That's not to say there aren't some potholes in that path, however. Underseeded West Virginia--the team that last week took care of Pitt and then pushed destiny's child Syracuse to still another OT--looms in the bottom half of that bracket, assuming, of course, the Mountaineers can make it past Kansas and then Michigan State. (No small assumption that, to say the least.) For all the complaints heaped upon the Big Ten for taking this whole "defense" thing way too seriously, a WVU/KU game in the second round would be the collision of two outstanding defenses.

Meanwhile Tom Izzo and his Spartans owe the selection committee a giant bouquet of roses, for giving MSU far and away the least threatening seven-seed in the entire field. Then again the seven-seed in question might not make it that far, and a game between Michigan State and USC would be another matter. Still, the numbers like State: Tim Floyd should have but a few fleeting hours to work up his junk defense du jour, while the matchup between the MSU D and the SC offense in particular would seem to tilt in Izzo's favor. (Note as well that a resumption of hostilities between Spartans and Trojans would trigger a frenzied spike in hits on this page, one driven exclusively by headline editors wishing to wax erudite in the face of an impending deadline.)

Final thought: Cleveland State, a team that thrives by forcing opponents into turnovers, has a one-in-four chance of beating Wake Forest, a team that has been known to cough up the rock on occasion. That still makes the Deacons an overwhelming favorite, of course, but for the underdog in a 4-13 game those are some surprisingly good odds.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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