Which NCAA team had the worst day on Thursday? The obvious answer might be Ohio State, Cincinnati or Oklahoma, all of which succumbed to lower-ranked teams in the basketball tournament’s round of 64. Or perhaps North Carolina State, which squandered a 16-point lead against Saint Louis and lost in overtime.
But none of those teams had much chance of winning the championship. Meanwhile, Florida, a tournament favorite, ended Thursday in a worse position than it started, despite winning its opening game against Albany. (Of course, Ohio State would still probably trade places with the Gators.)
In the latest FiveThirtyEight forecast, updated with game results and injury information as of early Friday morning, Florida’s probability of winning the tournament is 11 percent. Twenty-four hours ago, it was 14.5 percent.
How did the Gators’ odds get worse? There are three contributing factors:
- A closer-than-expected game against Albany. Florida defeated No. 16 seed Albany by 12 points, a final score that conceals a game that was competitive until late in the second half. But the Gators were favored by 22 to 23 points according to Las Vegas sportsbooks and power ratings. Our research suggests that performance relative to power ratings and point spreads early in the tournament has a fair amount of say in predicting how a team fares later on. Florida’s performance was forgivable, and the team remains the favorite in the South region, but the Gators will need to be sharper as the competition improves.
- A tough third-round matchup. Pittsburgh, despite a No. 9 seed, was a reasonably clear favorite against No. 8-seeded Colorado on Thursday, according to our model. And the Panthers dominated the Buffaloes, pulling ahead 46-18 by halftime and eventually winning by 29 points. Computer systems like Ken Pomeroy’s regard Pittsburgh as having the strength of a typical No. 4 or No. 5 seed. This could be a challenging matchup for Florida. The Gators played a tough out-of-conference schedule, but they’ve faced just two ranked teams since Jan. 1 in a weak basketball year for the SEC.
- Threats in the regional finals. The South may not be as loaded as the East or the Midwest. But the No. 3-seeded team, Syracuse, turned in an excellent performance in its win against Western Michigan. The Gators will likely have to defeat either the Orange or No. 2-seeded Kansas to reach the Final Four. Meanwhile, Kansas coach Bill Self sounds increasingly confident that injured center Joel Embiid will be able to return at some point in the tournament, even as he confirmed that Embiid is likely out for the opening weekend.