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What Might Have Happened In The NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16

Though there are no actual games to be played, FiveThirtyEight is still taking a shot at a little March Madness. We built an NCAA Tournament bracket, using ESPN’s Bracketology, and we’ll be simulating the results of each game by using a simple “100-sided dice roll” against our forecast probabilities. Check back on Fridays and Mondays through April 6 for how each round of the men’s and women’s brackets went. After our first and second rounds played out, here’s how the Sweet 16 might have gone.

Men’s bracket

MIDWEST REGION

The favorites: College basketball’s two all-time winningest programs each entered the regional semifinals with win probabilities north of 70 percent and emerged from the regional semifinals with double-digit victories in tow.

The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks steamrolled the No. 5 Auburn Tigers to reach the Elite Eight for a nation-leading 11th time this century. Second-seeded Kentucky extinguished the Cinderella flame of No. 11 East Tennessee State as the Wildcats earned a nation-leading 38th Elite Eight appearance and salvaged an otherwise down season for the SEC. John Calipari will once again lead Kentucky into a regional final — something he’s gotten used to, having accomplished the feat seven times in his first 10 seasons with the Wildcats.

The upsets: None to speak of.

Next-round matchup: Once the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils were eliminated early and an 11-seed advanced to the Sweet 16, this region got chalky in a hurry. Only the top two seeds remain. And in a rematch of the 2012 national championship game, it will be Kansas vs. Kentucky. Blueblood versus blueblood. Larry Brown disciple versus Larry Brown disciple. As Kansas coach Bill Self once astutely put it, “There is something very competitive when you get Kentucky and Kansas together.” The Jayhawks enter the matchup with a 69 percent win probability.

WEST REGION

The favorites: San Diego State dismantled Indiana on its way to a first-ever appearance in Elite Eight.

The upsets: For the second time in five years, Oklahoma entered a tournament game with Oregon as the lower seed and played the role of eliminator. The Sooners had a 34 percent win probability this time, but they won a nail-biter over the Payton Pritchard-led Ducks. This century hasn’t been kind to the Sooners in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve pulled it together against the Ducks.

Next-round matchup: No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 San Diego State, a rematch of 2013’s second-round matchup. Can Malachi Flynn pace the Aztecs to a win? San Diego State enters with a 76 percent win probability.

EAST REGION

The favorites: A tip of the cap to our model, which saw both favorites advancing, including one that toppled a No. 1 seed.

The fourth-seeded Maryland Terrapins are still dancing after taming Obi Toppin and the entertaining-as-hell Dayton Flyers, which recently became the 11th team to snag both AP Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors in the same season. Leonard Hamilton and the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles drubbed play-in winner North Carolina State to reach the Elite Eight for a second consecutive season and the fourth time in school history. Over the past two seasons, the Seminoles have evolved into the pride of the ACC.

The upsets: None to speak of.

Next-round matchup: The original ACC is well represented, as No. 4 Maryland and No. 2 Florida State will clash for the first time ever in the NCAA Tournament. Lower-seeded Maryland is given the slight edge in our model, with a 53 percent win probability.

SOUTH REGION

The favorites: As is often the case, the two programs with more recent tournament success advanced, with No. 3 Michigan State downing No. 2 Creighton by double digits and No. 4 Louisville edging No. 9 Rutgers.

With the Bluejays’ loss, the Big East has zero teams in the regional finals after having a representative in three of the past four seasons. Conversely, the Big Ten Conference punched a second ticket to the Elite Eight while also closing a remarkable season by the Scarlet Knights.

The upsets: None to speak of.

Next-round matchup: In a rematch of the 2015 regional final, the 2012 regional semifinal, the 2009 regional final and the 1959 regional final, the table is once again set for Louisville-Michigan State. This iteration features an iso-crazed offense against the most assist-heavy in the nation. The Spartans open with a 58 percent win probability.

Women’s bracket

GREENVILLE REGIONAL

The favorites: Both of them won, as South Carolina rolled past Oregon State by 20 and North Carolina State beat UCLA by 7, moving into its first Elite Eight since 1998, when Kay Yow was head coach.

The upsets: Both underdogs had fairly long odds of winning — 6 percent for Oregon State, 28 percent for UCLA — and both fell short. The Beavers and the Bruins did each make the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year, though.

Next-round matchup: South Carolina, playing about 100 miles from campus, has an 86 percent chance of moving onto the Final Four as the No. 1 overall seed.

DALLAS REGIONAL

The favorites: Baylor continued its dominant title defense, bulldozing Iowa by 29 points. On the other side of the region, No. 3 Mississippi State — an underdog with a 45 percent chance of victory — outlasted Stanford in a 1-point thriller.

The upsets: Mississippi State has put together another impressive tournament run, reaching the Elite Eight for the fourth straight season. The Bulldogs’ tournament success has outlasted the terrific careers of Victoria Vivians (class of 2018) and star post player Teaira McCowan (2019).

Next-round matchup: Baylor has been unstoppable thus far. The Lady Bears have an 86 percent chance to beat Mississippi State and return to the Final Four.

FORT WAYNE REGIONAL

The favorites: Maryland had more trouble than we may have expected, winning by 8 against No. 4 seed DePaul. In a rematch of the Bluegrass rivalry, No. 2 Louisville pounded No. 6 Kentucky — the only team outside of the top 16 seeds to make the Sweet 16.

The upsets: There were none here, either, as DePaul couldn’t finish the job against a strong Maryland team.

Next-round matchup: Maryland-Louisville should be an excellent regional final, with the Terps given a 63 percent chance to win in our forecast. Brenda Frese’s program hasn’t made the Final Four since 2015.

PORTLAND REGIONAL

The favorites: No. 1 Oregon escaped No. 4 seed Gonzaga by just a single point. But in the more stunning news, UConn lost before the Final Four for the first time since 2007, ending an incredible streak of 12 straight trips.

The upsets: The story of this simulated tournament is No. 3 seed Northwestern, which had never made the Elite Eight and hadn’t won two NCAA Tournament games in a season since 1993. After a 26-3 regular season, the Wildcats became the team that knocked off UConn.

Next-round matchup: Can Northwestern keep it going? Next up is No. 1 seed Oregon, which has a 95 percent chance to win in our model.

Check out our simulated March Madness predictions.


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Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Jake Lourim is a freelance writer in Washington. He most recently worked for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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