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Monday, March 21, 2011
A Sweet 16? Not For Your Brackets

By Andrew Feldman
ESPN.com

What an amazing four days of college basketball action. Now welcome to "National complain/brag about your bracket day!"

It's quite unorthodox to be interactive in a column, but I'm going to give it a shot as I have an extremely important request. Here goes: Raise your hand if you have a bracket filled with all 16 teams that made the Sweet 16.

Put your hand down. Thanks.

There were 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge and zero, that's right, zero brackets went 16 for 16. There were a few that came close (and congrats to user SoCal_92 on hitting 15 of the 16), but in all reality, this year's bracket, which now boasts two 11 seeds, one 12 seed and one 10 seed in the Sweet 16, has confused predictors everywhere.

As the NCAA tournament headed for a few days off, many were left staring at their brackets wondering just why they didn't pick Richmond to advance to the Sweet 16 like 6.6 percent of users had. And how could they not see VCU advancing like 2.4 percent did? After Pittsburgh's loss on Saturday, 6.2 percent of users were left without a national champion. The Panthers were also picked by 17.4 percent of users to reach the finals and 50.4 percent to reach the Final Four. So much for chalk. Notre Dame fell to Florida State on Sunday, knocking out the champion for another 3.5 percent of brackets. But the good news is that 81.1 percent of users still have their national champion without the red highlighting in their bracket.

Despite the letdown, you might be feeling with certain teams at this point, there are still plenty of games, and upsets to be seen during the tournament. Here's a look at what users believe each region has in store from here on out:

East Region

Ohio State, North Carolina, Kentucky and Marquette advanced to the Sweet 16. Clearly the surprise in this region was Marquette who ousted both Xavier and Syracuse. While 6.2 percent of users had Marquette in the Sweet 16, only 2.9 percent had all four of these teams advancing in their bracket.

When North Carolina and Marquette meet on Friday, a matchup that 4.7 percent of brackets predicted, 85.5 percent of users believe it will be all Tar Heels. That specific matchup aside, 16.1 percent of brackets have North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

The other game in the region, Ohio State versus Kentucky, was predicted much more often by ESPN.com users at a clip of 71.7 percent. Out of those brackets, 80.7 percent have the Buckeyes moving on. Altogether, 59.4 percent of all brackets have OSU in the Elite Eight.

The potential matchups for the Elite 8 out of this region are:

Ohio State versus North Carolina: 35.8 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 71.4 percent of them picking Ohio State.
Ohio State versus Marquette: 0.7 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 88.1 percent of them picking Ohio State.
Kentucky versus North Carolina: 7.9 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 57.2 percent of them picking North Carolina.
Kentucky versus Marquette: 0.2 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 80.8 percent of them picking Kentucky.

As mentioned in the last column, fans kept the faith in Ohio State, with 39.1 percent of brackets having the Buckeyes in the Final Four. North Carolina is second out of these four with 16.1 percent, followed by Kentucky at 7.9 percent and Marquette at 0.2 percent. For those wondering, 2,114 brackets (0.04 percent) have Marquette winning the entire tournament … just slightly behind Ohio State, predicted to win it all on more than 1.5 million brackets (25.8 percent).

West Region

If Michigan would've hit that final shot, many more brackets in Tournament Challenge would've been out of contention. If Texas didn't foul with just seconds to go, 65.4 percent of users would've been a little happier. Sunday was a crazy day for fans of the West bracket. When action resumes on Thursday, Connecticut will be up against a tough San Diego State team, and Duke will face Arizona in a rematch of the 2001 national championship game.

The No. 1, 2, 3 and 5 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 was accurately predicted by 17.6 percent of brackets. The Duke-Arizona matchup was found in nearly a quarter of all brackets (24.8 percent), with 87.4 percent of those brackets having the Blue Devils advancing. Duke remained the third most popular Final Four pick overall, coming out of the West region in 50.7 percent of brackets. Arizona is picked to reach the Final Four in 1.4 percent of brackets.

As for the Connecticut-San Diego State showdown, 71.3 percent of users predicted those two would meet, with 65.6 percent picking the No. 3 seed Huskies to pull off the upset. Out of that game, 23.0 percent have Connecticut advancing to the Final Four while San Diego State persuaded only 12 percent of users. In fact, out of all the No. 2 seeds, SDSU was predicted the least by users to advance to this point, and only 1.7 percent has them winning the title.

The potential matchups for the Elite Eight out of this region are:

Duke versus San Diego State: 24.5 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 69.3 percent of those predictions believing Duke will win.
Duke versus Connecticut: 45.3 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 65.7 percent of those predictions believing Duke will win.
Arizona versus San Diego State: 1.6 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 68.8 percent of those predictions believing San Diego State will win.
Arizona versus Connecticut: 1.9 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 70.7 percent of those predictions believing Connecticut will win.

Southwest Region

Before the tournament began, it appeared fans were having the most problems in the Southeast region with users picking a number of different teams out of that region. The Southwest region, on the other hand, seemed to be pretty steady, with 61.6 percent of brackets picking Kansas to make the Final Four. Notre Dame got 19.0 percent support and Purdue received 7.0 percent, and it seemed like a no-brainer according to users that one of those three teams would make it through. Now, with the four teams that remain, the combined totals of the other three teams that aren't the Jayhawks that advanced to the Sweet 16 (VCU, Richmond and Florida State): 0.59 percent. Only 2,811 brackets had all four of these teams still alive in the tournament heading into Friday's games.

Regardless of who they were scheduled to face in this round, Kansas was expected to make the Elite Eight in 79.8 percent of brackets. More brackets than I would've expected, 6 percent, predicted the Kansas-Richmond matchup, with 94.6 percent picking the Jayhawks. Only 0.5 percent of brackets have Richmond in the Elite Eight. As expected from the start, Kansas continues to be one of the most popular picks in Tournament Challenge over the next two rounds.

VCU blew away Georgetown and Purdue and will face off against Florida State in the Sweet 16 game that 0.3 percent of users predicted would occur. Despite VCU's run, 67.1 percent of the brackets that who selected this game also picked the Seminoles to come away with the win. When brackets were submitted, VCU was the major underdog, selected by only 16.0 percent to win in the second round and 2.4 percent in the third round. Only 0.1 percent of brackets have VCU in the Final Four.

The potential matchups for the Elite Eight out of this region are:

Kansas versus Florida State: 0.9 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 86.2 percent of those brackets picking Kansas to win.
Kansas versus VCU: 0.2 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 84.6 percent of those brackets picking Kansas to win.
Richmond versus Florida State: Only 2,836 brackets (less than 0.05 percent) predicted this matchup with 53.0 percent of those brackets picking Florida State to win.
Richmond versus VCU: Only 1,886 brackets (less than 0.05 percent) predicted this matchup with 54.7 percent of those brackets picking Richmond to win.

Southeast Region

The only bracket without its No. 1 seed will resume play on Thursday night, with No. 4 Wisconsin facing No. 8 Butler and No. 2 Florida facing No. 3 Brigham Young. Only 0.7 percent of entries predicted these four teams in the Sweet 16, staying true to the trend from last week that this region was unpredictable.

The fourth-seeded Badgers will have their hands full with the 2010 NCAA Tournament runner-up. During the third-round matchup between Butler and Pittsburgh, 7.8 percent of brackets had the upset in mind. Looking ahead, out of the 2.0 percent of brackets that predicted this Sweet 16 matchup, 33.1 percent of users believe that Bulldogs can do it again. Butler led all No. 8 seeds in the tournament in terms of user-predicted success. 4.8 percent had them in the Sweet 16, 1.9 percent have them in the Elite Eight and nearly 0.2 percent have them playing for the national title in the second consecutive year. Wisconsin, as mentioned last week, never received much support from fans in its region. Only 12.4 percent have the Badgers in the Elite Eight and 6.5 percent have them in the Final Four, the lowest percentage of all the No. 4 seeds in the bracket.

A cool 38.1 percent of brackets have No. 2 Florida and No. 3 BYU facing off in the Sweet 16, and among those brackets, it's basically a dead heat, with the Gators getting a slight edge (52.7 percent). As the teams move forward, 26.4 percent of all brackets have BYU advancing into the Elite Eight and 10.4 percent have them in the Final Four. Florida has a significant edge in reaching the Elite Eight (41.3 percent of brackets) and Final Four (15.8 percent of brackets). Both teams are getting only about 1 percent of the vote to win the title.

The potential matchups for the Elite Eight out of this region are:

Wisconsin versus BYU: 3.4 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 51.8 percent of those brackets picking BYU.
Wisconsin versus Florida: 4.8 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 56.6 percent of those brackets picking Florida.
Butler versus BYU: 0.5 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 74.4 percent of those brackets picking BYU.
Butler versus Florida: 0.6 percent of brackets predicted this matchup with 72.7 percent of those brackets picking Florida.

So what's left?

There are more stats available at the College Basketball Nation Blog, but just a couple of quick items:

A Big Ten final? It's possible that Ohio State and Wisconsin can face off for the third time this year, in the national championship game. A total of 0.6 percent of entries had the two teams in the finals with the Buckeyes winning in 72.5 percent of those brackets. Neither of these teams has faced any of the other remaining competitors in the Sweet 16.
Nine. That was the most common number of correct picks out of the Sweet 16.
• There were 19 brackets that got 31 of 32 second-round matchups correct.
• The least selected championship game out of the teams remaining is Marquette versus VCU. Only 37 brackets had the two teams in the finals.
• Brigham Young played Arizona (1-0) and San Diego State (2-1) during the 2010-11 season. These are both potential championship-game matchups.

The tournament thus far has been absolutely incredible. Enjoy the next set of games next weekend and I wish you and your bracket the best of luck.

You can read more from Andrew Feldman in the ESPN.com Poker section.