Modeling March Madness - Round of 32

NCAA
Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Round 64 Recap

The Round of 64 was nothing short of a categorical success for my model and its ability to predict tournament games. It accurately predicted the results of 27 of the 32 games in the Round of 64, only making the incorrect predictions on Iowa-Richmond, Kentucky-Saint Peter’s, UConn-New Mexico State, Virginia Tech-Texas, and UAB-Houston. While Kentucky was an obvious pick, they were the 2-seed my model was least confident in, and UAB over Houston was the lowest confidence prediction it made not just in the Round of 64, but in the entire tournament. The biggest failure of the model was its placement of Virginia Tech in the Elite Eight. That is the only team it has lost so far that it predicted advancing to the Elite Eight or further, but that is an early 80-point loss for those playing in ESPN bracket pools. Altogether, however, the 270 points going into the Round of 32 is good for the top 0.2% of all ESPN brackets.

The Round of 32
Here is where the feel-good stories start to come to a close, and a Cinderella is born. Expect to see lots of high seeded teams win here as they continue their season-long push toward glory, while one or two double-digit seeds should surprise you like always. After this, we should have some true idea of how the rest of the tournament should shake out. This is also the hardest round of the tournament to predict by far.

Chart: NCAA Round vs Win Probability
Round vs Win Possibility


5 UConn def. 4 Arkansas
4 Arkansas def. 12 New Mexico State
My model originally predicted a Huskies victory, but is now highly confident in a Hogs win against the Aggies. In spite of Arkansas’ tourney-worst .303 three-point shooting percentage, they have a lot more talent than New Mexico State, and star sixth man JD Notae leads one of the best bench units in the country, which is sure to go better than bucket for bucket with a weaker New Mexico State bench.

5 Iowa def. 4 Providence 4 Providence def. 12 Richmond
While my model had the Hawkeyes taking down the Spiders and then the Friars, it now predicts a Providence win over Richmond. Richmond’s rich history as a lower seed in the tournament should not be brushed aside, but Providence dominated a major conference this year while Richmond finished sixth in the A-10.

4 UCLA def. 5 Saint Mary’s
UCLA was a lot of people’s sneaky tournament pick, but they just looked lost at times against Akron. The Bruins eventually held on to win the game, but as a viewer, I have a lot less confidence in them than my model does. That said, we’re still rolling with UCLA, even though Saint Mary’s is way too good to go out as a first-weekend team. Sadly, in March your fate is often determined by the luck of the draw when you slip to a 5-seed, and their draw was a Bruins squad that will not let what happened against Akron happen again.

11 Virginia Tech def. 3 Purdue 3 Purdue def. 6 Texas
My model was a big believer in a Virginia Tech Cinderella run, sending them all the way to the Elite Eight, but Chris Beard’s squad would not let that come to pass after a big Round of 64 for Marcus Carr and Andrew Jones. Purdue is now projected to be the team sending the Longhorns home, and between Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey, the Boilermakers have all the skill it takes to head to the second weekend.

3 Wisconsin def. 11 Iowa State
Iowa State was a buzzsaw until they opened Big 12 play, where they had to compete night in and night out with their cohabitants in the sport’s top conference. Their out-of-conference prowess got them this far, but it won’t be enough against a Wisconsin team that protects the ball as well as anybody.

1 Gonzaga def. 9 Memphis
Gonzaga made the title game last year, and anything less than that this year would be considered a massive disappointment. Before their victory over Boise State Memphis was already being considered a massive disappointment by some, so they surely won’t be the squad to knock off the Bulldogs.

2 Duke def. 7 Michigan State
Expect to see Duke get revenge for their 2019 Elite Eight defeat at the hands of the Spartans in this year’s Round of 32. Michigan State just hasn’t dominated like Duke has, and even at their best they don’t look like they can knock off the Blue Devils.

3 Texas Tech def. 11 Notre Dame
The Red Raiders have proven they can beat anybody this year. While Notre Dame is here in large part because they’re incredibly battle-tested, Texas Tech is just as battle-tested, while flexing more recent tournament success and a 3-seed with a first-year head coach in Mark Adams.

2 Kentucky def. 7 Murray State 7 Murray State def. 15 Saint Peter’s
Who saw that one coming? The Saint Peter’s Peacocks took Kentucky to overtime and the Wildcats blinked. The Racers put together a convincing win against a good San Francisco Dons team, and while Saint Peter’s is the talk of the tournament, Murray State will ensure they’re relegated to “statistical footnote” territory and not “Florida Gulf Coast/Oral Roberts” territory. 

1 Kansas def. 9 Creighton
Here are three reasons why the Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble with the Blue Jays: Ochai Agbaji, Remy Martin, and Christian Braun. Kansas is one of the most talented teams in the country, and that should be enough against a good-not-great Creighton squad.

11 Michigan def. 3 Tennessee
This is the one pick my model will make that I truly can’t endorse. This model does not measure trends, and does not know about Juwan Howard’s absence. That said, Michigan has won tournament games without Juwan Howard, and just beat a good Colorado State squad. He does not singlehandedly make or break this team, and enough talent is there to beat anyone.

7 Ohio State def. 2 Villanova
Villanova has a ton of recent success and dominated the Big East Tournament this year. They’re built for this. That said, Ohio State runs an efficient offense and features one of the top players in college hoops. This should be a great game, but the Buckeyes will head to the Sweet Sixteen.

4 Illinois def. 12 UAB 5 Houston def. 4 Illinois
My model was a big believer in the UAB Blazers, but the Houston Cougars put them down without too much fanfare. After an agonizing performance against Chattanooga, I don’t think anyone is very confident in Illinois, including my model.

1 Baylor def. 8 North Carolina
Expect the reigning champs to make another deep run here. North Carolina is good but Baylor is just in a different league from the Tar Heels right now. Watch as the Bears turn great ball movement into points in this one as they punch their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.

9 TCU def. 1 Arizona
This is the big upset of the round. TCU looks to knock off one of the top offenses in the country, and they really could do that. Colorado, UCLA, and Tennessee are the only teams to beat Arizona all year. Both the Horned Frogs and the Wildcats dominated non-conference play this year, and while Arizona beat up on their conference, the TCU had trouble in the toughest league in the sport. Arizona has won a lot of games on the defensive glass, but TCU should test them there as one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country. Second chance points could end up burying the Wildcats this year.

2 Auburn def. 10 Miami
Miami’s win over Duke proved that they have what it takes to punch up in the tournament. Their conference tournament loss proved that better teams will still usually win basketball games. Auburn is a better team, blocking the most shots of any team in the tournament. This could be a good game but should be a Tigers victory.