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Thursday, March 21, 2013
What are the odds?

By Kevin Pelton
ESPN.com

As you're picking your bracket this week, statistical analysis can help. Ken Pomeroy's log5 projections have become a staple of NCAA tournament preparation on the men's side, and similar projections might be even more valuable in the women's tournament because of the important role home-court advantage plays in the subregionals.

To put together odds on how far each team will advance, I've used Jeff Sagarin's predictor rating from RPIRatings.com, factoring in home court as well as half-credit for Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, Stanford in Palo Alto, Hampton in Norfolk and UConn in Bridgeport. Here's how things break down region-by-region with an eye toward possible upsets.

OKLAHOMA CITY REGIONAL

Sd School           Rtg     2R     S16    E8     F4   Final  Champ
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 1 Baylor          107.5  1.000   .965   .897   .808   .686   .373
 2 Tennessee        93.8   .979   .727   .539   .100   .048   .008
 5 Louisville       90.5   .903   .722   .074   .035   .013   .002
 7 Syracuse         90.6   .889   .265   .170   .022   .008   .001
 3 UCLA             87.6   .953   .590   .183   .017   .005   .000
 6 Oklahoma         85.9   .653   .297   .090   .008   .002   .000
 8 Florida State      87.5   .539   .020   .009   .003   .001   .000
 4 Purdue           85.9   .786   .222   .012   .004   .001   .000
 9 Princeton        86.6   .461   .015   .006   .002   .001   .000
11 CMU              82.1   .347   .110   .017   .001   .000   .000
12 MTSU             79.7   .097   .031   .001   .000   .000   .000
13 Liberty          78.3   .214   .024   .000   .000   .000   .000
10 Creighton        78.2   .111   .007   .001   .000   .000   .000
15 Oral Roberts     73.7   .021   .002   .000   .000   .000   .000
14 Stetson          70.7   .047   .004   .000   .000   .000   .000
16 Prairie View     62.7   .000   .000   .000   .000   .000   .000

Naturally, Baylor is the overwhelming favorite to get back to the Final Four, and projects to reach the championship game better than two-thirds of the time. Tennessee is the only real threat to Brittney Griner & Co., though Louisville could provide a relatively tricky Sweet 16 game. The Cardinals are rated 14th by Sagarin, and hosting the subregional gives them a huge edge over nominal favorite Purdue to reach the Sweet 16. Sagarin's ratings like the Big East's second tier, and Syracuse (13th) has an outside chance to test the Lady Vols on their home court.

By the way, Baylor's chances against Prairie View A&M aren't actually 100 percent; the Panthers project to pull the upset once every 2,797 matchups.

SPOKANE REGIONAL

Sd School           Rtg     2R     S16    E8     F4   Final  Champ
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 1 Stanford         97.7   .992   .904   .719   .523   .159   .042
 3 Penn State         93.4   .925   .658   .434   .192   .040   .007
 2 California       90.8   .954   .657   .327   .117   .019   .002
 5 Iowa State         89.6   .505   .320   .087   .040   .006   .001
12 Gonzaga          86.5   .495   .311   .083   .038   .004   .000
 4 Georgia          87.2   .873   .357   .074   .028   .003   .000
11 UW-Green Bay     87.9   .522   .176   .081   .022   .002   .000
 9 Villanova        86.3   .618   .068   .028   .009   .001   .000
 7 Texas Tech       85.1   .581   .213   .064   .012   .001   .000
10 South Florida    86.0   .419   .125   .041   .009   .001   .000
 6 LSU              84.3   .478   .153   .050   .009   .001   .000
 8 Michigan         83.3   .382   .028   .008   .002   .000   .000
14 Cal Poly         78.1   .075   .012   .002   .000   .000   .000
13 Montana          76.0   .127   .012   .000   .000   .000   .000
15 Fresno State       74.3   .046   .004   .000   .000   .000   .000
16 Tulsa            71.7   .008   .001   .000   .000   .000   .000

Every year, Gonzaga presents a problem for the selection committee. The Zags will host both the subregional and the regional final thanks to their strong fan support. Despite a lack of marquee wins, their résumé might justify a 10-seed or so, but the committee doesn't want to force a high seed to play on the road. As a result, Gonzaga drops down a couple of lines, which gives fifth-seeded Iowa State a double-whammy -- the Cyclones face a tougher 12-seed than average in hostile territory. This method sees that game as basically a toss-up and gives the Zags a decent shot at reaching the Sweet 16 if you're feeling daring.

Elsewhere in the bracket, Sagarin is leery of No. 2 seed California, which boosted its record with a number of close wins in Pac-12 play. The Bears looked vulnerable in losing to UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, and Penn State is rated the strongest of the 3-seeds, meaning an excellent chance of another upset before a Cal-Stanford rematch. In the opening round, Green Bay is favored over LSU despite having to play on the road, and Villanova is a surprisingly heavy favorite against Michigan in the 8-9 game.

NORFOLK REGIONAL

Sd School           Rtg     2R     S16    E8     F4   Final  Champ
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 1 Notre Dame      102.7   .992   .912   .832   .562   .214   .101
 2 Duke             99.9   .971   .845   .637   .309   .095   .037
 3 Texas A&M        93.3   .960   .755   .249   .074   .012   .003
 7 Oklahoma State     90.8   .850   .143   .065   .015   .002   .000
 4 South Carolina   88.1   .905   .473   .072   .016   .001   .000
 6 Nebraska         88.7   .863   .229   .046   .009   .001   .000
 5 Colorado         86.2   .756   .437   .054   .009   .001   .000
 9 Iowa             84.3   .614   .061   .025   .003   .000   .000
 8 Miami            84.5   .386   .026   .011   .001   .000   .000
12 Kansas           82.3   .244   .079   .006   .001   .000   .000
15 Hampton          80.0   .029   .006   .001   .000   .000   .000
10 DePaul           80.3   .150   .007   .001   .000   .000   .000
11 Chattanooga      77.8   .137   .009   .000   .000   .000   .000
14 Wichita State      76.8   .040   .007   .000   .000   .000   .000
13 S. Dakota State    75.0   .095   .011   .000   .000   .000   .000
16 UT-Martin        73.0   .008   .001   .000   .000   .000   .000

The action in the Norfolk region might not get good until a potential final between Notre Dame and Duke. The Blue Devils have a relatively difficult draw for their subregional, facing a fine 7-seed in Oklahoma State and a surprisingly frisky 15-seed in Hampton, but it's unlikely to pose a problem for the hosts, who should also be able to escape SEC tournament champ Texas A&M. Note that, while South Carolina has the better rating than Colorado, the Buffaloes' home-court advantage makes them more likely to reach the Sweet 16 -- and that's without giving any bonus for playing at altitude.

BRIDGEPORT REGIONAL

Sd School           Rtg     2R     S16    E8     F4   Final  Champ
------------------------------------------------------------------
 1 Connecticut     109.5   .999   .975   .879   .804   .610   .403
 2 Kentucky         96.1   .983   .785   .628   .107   .038   .011
 4 Maryland         95.6   .977   .835   .107   .064   .022   .006
 3 North Carolina   88.4   .802   .404   .128   .009   .001   .000
 6 Delaware         86.9   .715   .440   .120   .007   .001   .000
 5 Michigan State     88.1   .792   .148   .007   .003   .000   .000
 7 Dayton           86.8   .474   .097   .048   .003   .000   .000
 8 Vanderbilt       87.5   .669   .020   .005   .002   .000   .000
10 St. John's       84.4   .526   .117   .047   .002   .000   .000
11 West Virginia    84.2   .285   .115   .023   .001   .000   .000
 9 Saint Joseph's   83.2   .331   .005   .001   .000   .000   .000
14 Albany           80.0   .198   .041   .005   .000   .000   .000
12 Marist           80.1   .208   .014   .000   .000   .000   .000
13 Quinnipiac       75.6   .023   .003   .000   .000   .000   .000
15 Navy             71.8   .017   .001   .000   .000   .000   .000
16 Idaho            67.2   .001   .000   .000   .000   .000   .000

This most straightforward of regions projects to end with UConn facing Kentucky more than half the time -- with the Huskies winning nearly all those matchups. There is one intriguing subregional, with Delaware hosting North Carolina. The combination of home-court advantage and a healthy Elena Delle Donne (the team has lost just once with Delle Donne in the lineup, to Maryland in her first game in a month) gives the Blue Hens an excellent shot of pulling the upset. Host St. John's should also be favored as the nominal underdog in a 7-10 matchup with Dayton.

FINAL FOUR

Sd School           Rtg     2R     S16    E8     F4   Final  Champ
------------------------------------------------------------------
 1 Connecticut     109.5   .999   .975   .879   .804   .610   .403
 1 Baylor          107.5  1.000   .965   .897   .808   .686   .373
 1 Notre Dame      102.7   .992   .912   .832   .562   .214   .101
 1 Stanford         97.7   .992   .904   .719   .523   .159   .042
 2 Duke             99.9   .971   .845   .637   .309   .095   .037
 2 Kentucky         96.1   .983   .785   .628   .107   .038   .011
 2 Tennessee        93.8   .979   .727   .539   .100   .048   .008
 3 Penn St.         93.4   .925   .658   .434   .192   .040   .007
 4 Maryland         95.6   .977   .835   .107   .064   .022   .006
 3 Texas A&M        93.3   .960   .755   .249   .074   .012   .003
 2 California       90.8   .954   .657   .327   .117   .019   .002

So … UConn? Despite three losses to Notre Dame and one to Baylor, the Huskies are still favored because of their dominance against lesser foes. Against Big East foes, UConn outscored opponents by an incredible 29.9 points per game; Notre Dame was at a relatively tight plus-21.2 in going undefeated in conference play. In women's hoops, the rare clashes of the powers might be more telling, and while the Huskies had chances to win both games against the Irish in Connecticut, they lost in more convincing fashion on the road. I wouldn't pick UConn to win the title, but taking the Huskies to win a potential fourth meeting with Notre Dame could help you stand out from the rest of your bracket.

In general, picking all four No. 1 seeds to get to New Orleans is the safe call. All are better than 50-50 bets. Still, the chances of another all-chalk Final Four are less than one in five. This method shows Duke as the single team most likely to pull the upset, but Stanford as the most vulnerable of the top seeds.