Modeling March Madness: The Elite Eight

Saint Peter's players celebrate around head coach Shaheen Holloway
Photo Credit: William Bretzger-The Record / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sweet Sixteen Recap

After a scorching hot Round of 64 (27/32) and a tepid Round of 32 (10/16), my model had an ice-cold Sweet Sixteen, going just 3/8 on predictions. It nailed Duke over Texas Tech, Miami over Iowa State, and Kansas over Providence, but the other games gave it trouble. Arkansas gave Gonzaga fits, forcing the Bulldogs to turn the ball over a ton in a way that we really aren’t used to seeing. Saint Peter’s beat the odds for the third game in a row, though again Shaheen Holloway is the only person on the planet that had them here. I warned that the homecourt advantage of the Houston Cougars could come into play in spite of my model’s prediction, and I was right: the Cougars basically played a home game in their victory over Arizona. I doubted Michigan from the beginning, and I’m not surprised at all that they lost to Villanova, one of the best shooting teams in the country, while North Carolina has gotten this far because they’ve had a player go supernova every game they’ve played all tournament, with Brady Manek, Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, and RJ Davis each having a great game or two. Overall, we move to 71.4% on our predictions, while our initial national champion pick stays alive, affirming that we still have a shot at being one of the best predictive models fit to this tournament.

Chart: Win Probability by Round for Elite Eight
Win Probability by Round for Elite Eight

Elite Eight

A win here is all you need for an all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans. While every team at this level has proven themselves to be an elite squad, only one can win it all. Expect close matchups and plenty of them as every team puts in everything they have with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

#7 Ohio State def. #4 Illinois #2 Villanova def. #5 Houston
The Cougars were able to knock off one set of Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen, and look to knock off some more Wildcats tonight. Villanova comes into this one as perhaps the best shooting team left in the tournament, while Houston fields one of the best defenses in the country. Houston will pose a unique challenge to Collin Gillespie and company, but ultimately the Cougars just don’t have the offense to go score for score with the Wildcats. That said, I warned you last time that my model did not know the game was in San Antonio, and I will warn you again. Two nights ago, the Houston faithful came out in full force. Expect to see that again tonight in what should play like a home game for the Cougars. 

#1 Gonzaga def. #2 Duke #2 Duke def. #4 Arkansas
Coach K makes yet another Final Four in his last ride with the Blue Devils. Arkansas gets to the line better than any other team in the country, and could easily draw a lot of fouls and do some damage at the stripe against Duke, but the real key for the  Razorbacks is whether or not their defense will be able to do the same things tonight that they were able to do against Gonzaga, forcing turnovers and capitalizing on the other end. If Duke can protect the basketball, they can score it at a rate that Arkansas can’t keep up with.

#1 Baylor def. #11 Virginia Tech #8 North Carolina def. #15 Saint Peter’s
Every round has given me a new opportunity to explain why Saint Peter’s should lose. They should lose tomorrow night. They probably will, but no matter what happens tomorrow night, the Peacocks will live on forever as the first 13, 14, 15, or 16 seed to ever make the Elite Eight. North Carolina should make the Final Four, but unless they can make some noise in New Orleans, the most important story of this game will always be the presence of Cinderella.

#1 Kansas def. #2 Auburn #1 Kansas def. #10 Miami
Kansas is my only initial Final Four team left, and giving them a weaker opponent has done nothing but boost the Jayhawks’ chances of heading on down to New Orleans. Kansas just does everything well. If you want to beat them, you have to beat them at everything. Over the course of this season, the Hurricanes did not do very much better than the Jayhawks. KU scored more points on better shooting splits, rebounded better, and blocked more shots. All The U has on them is their ability to limit turnovers and steal the ball. These will be the keys to having a chance against what may be the best team in the country.