The Stats Told Us To Pick Utah State. Were They Wrong?
This article is part of our March Madness series.
The month of madness is upon us, and it didn’t take long for the moniker to deliver. In the third game of the opening full day of the 2023 men’s NCAA Tournament, No. 7 seed Missouri advanced past No. 10 Utah State, 76-65.
Wait, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? After all, the Tigers were the higher seed and played in the tougher conference — and had more marquee victories than the Aggies. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. According to a variety of advanced metrics — pick your poison — Utah State was the clearly superior side. Yes, FiveThirtyEight’s model was the most bullish on the Aggies pulling the “upset,” at 64 percent odds, but statistical handicappers like Jeff Sagarin, ESPN and Ken Pomeroy all agreed with our evaluation — and still do:
Many of the mathematical models still like Utah State
Current national ranking for Utah State and Missouri according to various statistical rating systems
|Power Ranking||Utah State||Missouri|
So does this mean that the numbers were all wrong? Not necessarily. Among the 11 non-power conference teams1 seeded No. 10 or worse and underseeded by at least one seed (according to the implied seeds from Pomeroy’s rankings) since 2016, five have won at least their round of 64 game — though the Aggies’ defeat today marked six straight losses for the analytics darlings:
Underseeded mid-majors haven’t performed well
Non-Power Six double-digit seeds in the men’s NCAA Tournament that were underseeded by at least one seed, 2016-2023
|Season||Team||KP Rk.||Implied||Actual||Diff||Won?||FTE Odds|
And you’ll notice that FiveThirtyEight’s odds have generally aligned with the eventual winner in these matchups: In fact, Utah State’s defeat today was the first time a team from this group has lost their round of 64 matchup after being favored by our model. Moreover, the previous five teams that fit this profile were projected to lose by our model before the game.
So while Utah State’s loss today was certainly a disappointment for fans of predictive college basketball metrics, there isn’t much evidence that we’ve systematically overrated these teams. Now, on the other hand, the Mountain West Conference? That’s another story entirely.
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