Examining Nate Silver’s Final Four Predictions

Throughout the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the team at Sports Insights has kept a close eye on Nate Silver’s round-by-round predictions in an attempt to answer one simple yet profound question: Does new-age data analysis have a place in the uniquely unpredictable world that is March Madness? We’ll attempt to answer that question and more by analyzing Silver’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Four predictions.

To begin our investigation, we first visited Silver’s critically acclaimed FiveThirtyEight blog in the New York Times to examine his pre-tournament predictions.

Living up to his reputation as a statistical savant, Silver was spot-on with his initial calculations. Of the eleven teams that Silver gave the best chance at winning it all, only one (Gonzaga) failed to reach the Sweet 16.

Following the Round of 32, we then dissected Silver’s updated Sweet 16 predictions.

This is where things got interesting.

At the time, Silver noted that Indiana’s chances to win the Championship had drastically decreased from his pre-tournament predictions, as the Hoosiers dipped from 18.4% to 10.9%. He based part of his calculations on the fact that the Hoosiers played poorly against Temple in the Round of 32 and would likely have difficulty penetrating Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone in the Sweet 16.

Just as Silver’s analysis predicted, Indiana looked like a deer in the headlights against Jim Boeheim’s suffocating zone defense and fell to the Orange 61-50.

Similarly, Silver dropped Kansas’ odds from 7.9% to 4.5% and noted that the Jayhawks would likely have a tough time keeping up with the high-scoring Michigan Wolverines. Although it wasn’t easy, Silver was vindicated as Trey Burke and company upended the Jayhawks and advanced to their first Final Four since 1993.

So what are Silver’s Final Four predictions?

According to his updated Final Four predictions, Louisville remains the front runner to cut down the nets. In fact, their odds have steadily increased with each round of play. At the outset, Silver gave Rick Pitino’s squad a 22.7% chance to win it all. Prior to the Sweet 16, the odds soared to 32.4%.

Now, Louisville stands at 55%, the highest percentage of all remaining teams (Michigan is a distant second at 21.2%, followed by Syracuse at 19% and Wichita State at 4.7%).

Silver notes that Louisville faces a relatively favorable opponent in the Final Four (Wichita State) and also the game will be played in Atlanta, which amounts to a de-facto home game for the Cardinals.

Interestingly, Silver points out that Louisville’s odds of winning it all would be slightly higher (57% versus 55%) if not for the horrific injury to guard Kevin Ware. This speaks to just how precise his calculations are.

Can Cinderella keep dancing?

Following Florida Gulf Coast’s loss to Florida, the Shockers of Wichita State assumed the role of Cinderella, and for good reason.

As a 9-seed, they took down #8 Pittsburgh, #1 Gonzaga and, most recently, #2 Ohio State. To put their epic run into perspective, Silver gave the Shockers just a 1.3% chance of reaching the Final Four (and just a 0.08% chance of winning it all) before the NCAA Basketball Tournament began.

While Wichita State’s chances now stand at 4.7% to hoist the championship trophy, they are unlikely to take down Louisville. More closely, Silver gives the Shockers just a 15% chance at beating the Cardinals. Interestingly enough, with a 10.5-point spread, Wichita State is a +525 moneyline dog to upset the Cardinals. That works out to an 16% implied probability based on the odds — shockingly close to Silver’s own final four predictions.

Who is likely to face Louisville in the Championship game?

According to Silver, Michigan has the slight edge (51.9%) over Syracuse (48.1%) in the National Semifinal.

Most interesting about the matchup is how stylistically different both teams are. As Silver notes, Michigan — led by the electric Trey Burke — boasts the number one offense in all the land (per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings).

In turn, Syracuse owns one of the best defenses in college basketball. As a result, sports bettors must ask themselves: Does defense still win championships? Or does good offense trump good defense?

Regardless of which side you take, one undisputed truth is that the best way to beat a zone defense is by making shots, which bodes well for Michigan as they are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation.

Do the sportsbooks agree?

Solidifying Silver’s predictions, Louisville is the clear cut favorite to win it all. Currently, Bovada lists the Cardinals at -150, followed by Michigan at +300 and Syracuse at +425.

Wichita State is the biggest longshot at +1200.

What do you think?

Is Louisville a shoe-in to hoist the championship trophy? Can Michigan’s hot-shooting take down Syracuse’s stifling zone defense? Does Wichita State have one more shocker left in them?

More importantly, with Silver living up to his reputation thus far, can we now close the book on the role of new-age data analysis in college basketball?

Your bracket may be busted, but the opportunity to increase your bankroll remains. Be sure to visit our NCAA Basketball Betting Trends page and follow us on Twitter (@SportsInsights) for late-breaking Final Four news.

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