Is It A Crap Shoot?

Before the tournament really gets going this week, thought it might be a good time to discuss the reliability of the tournament in declaring the Champion. The term "crap shoot" has often been used around here to describe what happens once it starts. I've disagreed with that term and still disagree with it. Does winning the tournament usually take a little bit of luck? Yes. However, if the tournament were a crap shoot or random, I think we'd see a lot more variation in both the teams that make the Final Four and in the teams that eventually cut down the net.

The methodology of this quick look isn't going to place it in a scientific journal but it is the best information I could find. For the Final Four teams, I gathered the AP rank from the week before the tournament started. I'd prefer a KenPom or Sagarin rating but I couldn't find a week by week archive and ESPN has the weekly archives for the polls. Obvious issues: teams are punished in the polls for losing in their conference tourney and we know the polls aren't always the most accurate for determining the best team.

Looking back through the last 8 years (arbitrary cutoff due to time constraints), the average AP rank of the Final Four teams is 8.78. That number is heavily influence by 2006 and 2011. As we know, last year had Butler and VCU who were both unranked (put at 26) to start the tournament make the last weekend. In 2006, Florida was ranked #11 heading into the tournament but spent two months ranked in the single digits. 2006 also featured George Mason's run and an LSU team ranked 19.

The table that follows goes in order of champion to runner-up to the two teams that lost in the semi's.

2005 AP
Illinois 1
Louisville 4
Michigan State 15
Avg 5.5
2006 AP
Florida 11
George Mason 26
LSU 19
Avg 15.75
2007 AP
Florida 6
Ohio State 1
Georgetown 9
Avg 5
2008 AP
Kansas 4
Memphis 2
Avg 2.5
2009 AP
Michigan State 8
Villanova 11
Avg 6.5
2010 AP
Duke 3
Butler 11
Michigan State 13
Avg 8.25
2011 AP
Butler 26
Kentucky 11
VCU 26
Avg 18

Looking at this information, I think it's fair to say the tournament may require some luck to win it but it also is not random or anywhere near it, it's pretty clear that being one of the five or six best teams in the field is required to win the tournament the vast majority of the time. Is it a crap shoot among those elite teams? Possibly but putting your money on the top four will get you a winner much more often than choosing the other 64. That just doesn't sound like a crap shoot to me.

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