2018 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Sweet 16 Simulation

By Ryan Fowler

In this special edition, we look at what the 2018 men's college basketball tournament could look like after 50,000 simulations of the NCAA Tournament selection committee's Sweet 16 released on February 11, 2018.

How it Works

Prediction Machine uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule and pace-adjusted team and player stats (weighted slightly more toward recent games), to play, one possession at a time, every game 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the NCAA Tournament. Each tournament is played individually, with the team that wins the game in that instance advancing.

Weekend Recap and Committee's Sweet 16

In an effort to improve transparency for the second year in a row, the NCAA Tournament selection committee once again provided a sneak preview of its top 16 teams should the 2018 men's basketball tournament start this week. The committee's in-season Sweet 16 breakdown looks like this:

Of the selection committee's top 16 squads, five of them lost this past Saturday including their top overall seed, Virginia. After winning 19 straight, Purdue has now dropped two in a row, falling at home to Ohio State last week and at Michigan State over the weekend. Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma all lost on Saturday as well, while the West Region's No. 1 seed, Xavier, escaped with a 1-point win at Creighton after some questionable calls down the stretch.

Committee's Picks vs. RPI/KenPom/Sagarin

For those of you scratching your head as to how Oklahoma cracked the committee's top 16 when they rank 23rd in the latest AP Poll, 31st in KenPom and 32nd in Sagarin, two reasons come to mind. First and foremost, win or lose, freshman sensation Trae Young is the most marketable name in college basketball this season. Second, the Sooners are 5-0 vs. the RPI's Top 25. However, probably due to reason No. 1, the committee felt it acceptable to ignore that Oklahoma is also 1-6 vs. RPI teams ranked 26th-50th and 4-3 vs. 51st-100th.

A team and game to watch this Sunday will be No. 19 Wichita State at fifth-ranked and No. 2 seed Cincinnati. It'll be only the third time this season the Bearcats have faced a ranked opponent. They're 0-2 to-date with losses to Xavier and Florida. While the committee, KenPom, Sagarin, and RPI support Cincinnati and their lockdown defense, which has allowed just 55.9 points per game - the second-fewest behind only Virginia – when adjusted for strength of schedule, UC's opposition ranks 190th in offensive efficiency. By comparison, Virginia's opposition ranks 13th. The Bearcats need a win over the Shockers to strengthen their resume and hold onto that No. 2 seed.

When comparing the committee's top 16 vs. KenPom rankings and Sagarin ratings, the NCAA likes Arizona more than KenPom, Tennessee, Clemson and Auburn more than Sagarin, while both KenPom and Sagarin rank Gonzaga and West Virginia among their sweet 16 squads.

The Mountaineers are reeling, losing six of their last nine games. In addition to missing the Sweet 16 preview and falling to No. 20 in Monday's AP Top 25 poll, Joe Lunardi demoted them to a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region where they'd likely face Ohio State in the second round. The fact West Virginia is 4-5 vs. RPI Top 25 squads no doubt opened the door for Oklahoma at 5-0 vs. RPI Top 25.

Gonzaga avenged an earlier season defeat by traveling to St. Mary's and smashing the Gaels Saturday night, 78-65. The final score wasn't indivicative of how one-sided the game actually was as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 22-5 lead. Mark Few's crew also held four of St. Mary's starters to 8-or-fewer points. It's likely the committee faded Gonzaga as a top 16 candidate due to their 151st-ranked strength of schedule because they're a respectable 7-4 vs. the RPI Top 50.

Sim Results

After 50,000 Sweet 16 simulations, the most-likely Final Four is chalk with Virginia (58.2% of the time), Villanova (43.0%), Purdue (49.7%) and Xavier (33.9%) advancing most of the time. However, the details do indicate how Duke (36.0%) does pose a threat to the Wildcats' (and in some sim-cases Buckeyes') chances of reaching San Antonio.

In the West, the Musketeers are by far the weakest No. 1 seed as Auburn is right on their heels to come out of the region at 33.0%. However, like Cincinnati, the Tigers haven't really played anybody with only two games to-date against Top 25 teams, wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. The overall weakness of the region, with Oklahoma (14.0%) and Clemson (19.3%) the other two teams, opens the door for Auburn to advance to San Antonio.

The most-likely National Championship scenarios are (advanced X% of the time):

Virginia (45.6%) vs. Villanova (30.5%)
Virginia (45.6%) vs. Duke (25.4%)
Purdue (20.7%) vs. Villanova (30.5%)
Cincinnati (12.9%) vs. Villanova (30.5%)

However, as was the case last Friday when we ran Joe Lunardio's later Bracketology iteration 50,000 times, the Cavaliers are overwhelming favorites to cut down the nets. They won the national title nearly 33% of the time. Villanova (16%), Duke (12%), Purdue (11.5%), and Cincinnati (7.3%) rounded out the top-five National Champion favorites based on the selection committee's Sweet 16 preview.