A few weeks ago I started wondering about what teams/schools have had the easiest route to the final four. As soon as the bracket is announced every year people start talking about which top seeds have the “easiest” bracket and who will have the best chance of making it to the Final Four.
Whenever these conversations take place, I immediately think “doesn’t it have more to do with which region has the most upsets, rather than what the other top seeds are in the region?”
For example, this year you would have likely looked at Xavier (a 10-seed) and thought they wouldn’t even survive the first weekend, because even if they managed to upset 7-seed Notre Dame, they would then have to face 2-seed Duke in their second game. Well, Duke got upset by 15-seed Lehigh, and next thing you know Xavier is a favorite in their second game and went on to make it to the Sweet 16.
Baylor didn’t even have to play a single-digit seed until they lost to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. They played 14-seed South Dakota State in the round of 64, 11-seed Colorado in the round of 32, and then 10-seed Xavier in the Sweet 16.
The amazing thing is that I came up with those two examples by only looking at one half of one region in one year’s bracket. Imagine what we could find if we looked at all four regions from every tournament from this millennium.
That’s exactly what I did. Check it out after the jump.
Last week, during my spring break, I went back and looked at each of the Final Four participants since 2000. I then patiently waited for the games from this past weekend to be decided so that I could include this year’s Final Four participants in this little study. This gave me 13 years worth of data, and a grand total of 52 Final Four teams.
I’m going to take each of those 52 teams and look at the four games that they to win before reaching the Final Four. Using the Baylor example above, IF they had managed to beat 1-seed Kentucky, they would have played the 14, 11, 10, and 1 seeds from their region, giving them an average seed played of 9 because (14+11+10+1) ÷ 4 = 9, which would have tied them for the ninth easiest route to the Final Four in this millennium. Too bad for them, they lost to Kentucky.
Now, we all know that the 1-seeds are supposed to have the easiest routes to the Final Four. It’s the nature of the beast. In theory if the tournament played out exactly how it’s built to (no upsets) then the top seeds would would play the lowest seeded team in each round (16, 8, 4, 2) while the two-seeds would play the second lowest (15, 7, 3, 1) but that’s not how it happens.
Instead, upsets occur all throughout the tournament leaving a team like the five-seed Indiana Hoosiers from 2002 with an easier route to that year’s Final Four than the 1-seed Maryland Terrapins, who ended up beating them in the Championship.
So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at my handy-dandy chart of all 52 Final Four teams of this millennium. I ranked them from most difficult to easiest for the route to the Final Four with the tie-breaker being that team’s seed. Ties beyond that are listed appropriately:
|Rank||Year||Seed||Team||Ro64||Ro32||S16||E8||Avg Seed Played|
|*Indicates they won their Final Four game but lost in the Championship.|
|**Indicates they won their Final Four game and won the Championship.|
|***Indicates teams from this year that have not played their Final Four game yet.|
This tells us that the single most difficult path to the Final Four of this millennium was traversed the 2011 Butler Bulldogs, who had to play both the 1-seed, 2-seed and 4-seed from their region. They are followed closely by the 2006 George Mason Patriots, who didn’t play a single team seeded lower than a 7 on their way to the Final Four.
On the other side of that coin, we have the 2001 Michigan State Spartans, who didn’t play a single team from their region seeded higher than the 9-seed Fresno State Bulldogs, and the average seed they faced was a 12. That Michigan State team ended up getting throttled by the Arizona Wildcats, losing 61-80 in the Final Four.
The second easiest road to the Final Four of this millennium saw the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks reap the benefits of upsets in their region, facing only one single-digit seed (8-seed UNLV) as they cruised down the carpool lane to reach the Final Four, facing an average seed of 11.5 on the way, and eventually went on to win that year’s Championship.
Another interesting tid-bit is that the Jayhawks have won all three of their previous National Championships during leap years (1952, 1988 and 2008) also, in ’88 the Jayhawks faced an average of a 9-seed on their way to the Final Four, and though the tournament wasn’t as big back in 1952 and they didn’t have official seedings, from the best that I can tell, in the four games they played to win the Championship, they faced an average seed of about 9.5.
This year, 2012, is a leap year. The average of the average seeds that the Jayhawks have faced during their other three Championship years falls right in the 9 to 10 range (depending on the actual number of the 1952 season) and what was the average seed the Jayhawks faced this year to get to the Final Four? 9.25
I know a whole lot of Jayhawk fans. I’ll let them decide if they think the stars are aligned right for another Kansas Championship, and maybe they’ll even share those thoughts in the comments below.
And to give everyone something to look forward to, I plan on posting something similar on teams that have made it to the Championship game, and those that have won the Championship. I know you’re excited.