lukewinn
Wednesday March 17th, 2010

Utah State

Brian Green's Utah State club is the most statistically strong 12-seed in the tourney field. (AP)

You can't make all of your tourney-pool decisions based on statistics. No magic numbers exist -- not efficiency, not adjusted scoring margin, and especially not the average salary of a school's graduates (Cornell in the Final Four!) -- that predict every winner. But you can make better bracket decisions by paying attention to the right stats. Since none is more revealing than the efficiency numbers on kenpom.com, those are what I'll use to take a look at the Cinderellas:

• I like to go with my gut when making upset picks -- but before locking them in, I'll check the gap in the two teams' Pythagorean winning percentage to make sure I'm not being ridiculous. You don't need your Cinderella to be ranked higher in efficiency than its foe to feel comfortable about taking an 11 over a 6, or a 12 over a 5, or even a 13 over a 4. You just want there not to be a statistical chasm between the two teams.

These are the four 11-13 seeds that rank the closest to their first-round opponent:

1. Utah State (12) vs. Texas A&M (5), South Region (+3)

The WAC champs aren't favored to win this game by Vegas, but they're actually three spots ahead of the Big 12's Aggies in the kenpom.com rankings. As much as everyone's certain that UTEP will knock off Butler -- and I picked that to happen -- this is the most statistically close 5-12 game:

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Texas A&M 111.9 (39) 89.9 (23) .925 (23)

Utah St. 116.4 (14) 93.0 (54) .930 (20)

2. Old Dominion (11) vs. Notre Dame (6), South Region (+5*)

Utah State isn't the only double-digit-seeded mid-major to have a better efficiency profile than its first-round matchup. The Monarchs' D is so much better than the Irish's that ODU ranks five spots higher:

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Notre Dame 119.8 (4) 99.3 (140) .897 (38)

Old Dominion 107.9 (72) 88.5 (16) .907 (33)

(* I didn't list this one first, because its +5 gap comes with a warning: The Irish changed their identity near the end of the season, and as Andy Cox's analysis at Crashing the Dance revealed on Tuesday, they're much hotter than the Monarchs are in March.)

3. Washington (11) vs. Marquette (6), East Region (-1)

The (speedy) Huskies and (slowed-down) Golden Eagles play at completely different paces, but their efficiency profiles are almost identical. The biggest thing to note about this game is that no matter who wins, they're far more efficient than the team they're likely to face in the second round: third-seeded New Mexico. The Lobos rank 47th overall on kenpom.com, making them the weakest No. 3 seed by far.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Marquette 114.3 (22) 92.6 (48) .919 (28)

Washington 112.6 (32) 91.5 (38) .916 (29)

4. Minnesota (11) vs. Xavier (6), West Region (-7)

The Gophers didn't exactly dominate the Big Ten this season, but they have a strong efficiency profile that stacks up with Xavier's, and play better D than the Musketeers. These two teams are in a similar spot to Washington and Marquette: They're both more efficient than the No. 3 seed in their pod (in this case, Pittsburgh). I wouldn't be shocked to see the winner of this game make the Sweet 16.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Xavier 115.8 (15) 92.7 (50) .928 (22)

Minnesota 112.6 (32) 91.5 (38) .916 (29)

• On the flip-side, these are the 11-13 seeds with the largest gaps between them and their first-round opponent -- basically, the upsets I'd only pick if I had some (negative) inside information on the favorite:

1. New Mexico State (12) vs. Michigan State (5), Midwest Region (-91)

The Spartans have been underwhelming at times this year, but they're still a top-25 team in efficiency. New Mexico State, on the other hand, has an atrocious defense -- worse than even Iowa's or Indiana's in the Big Ten.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Michigan St. 112.0 (38) 90.3 (27) .923 (24)

New Mex. St. 110.5 (46) 104.1 (222) .665 (115)

2. Wofford (13) vs. Wisconsin (4), East Region (-84)

The Badgers are the most efficient team in the whole East Region -- better than even No. 1 Kentucky or No. 2 West Virginia. Wofford is average on defense, and about 14 points per 100 possessions worse than UW on offense. That's not an upset formula.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Wisconsin 116.5 (13) 87.3 (7) .965 (3)

Wofford 102.8 (149) 93.1 (56) .756 (87)

3. Houston (13) vs. Maryland (4), Midwest Region (-75)

The Cougars are only in the dance because they got hot during the Conference USA tournament. They don't have the defense of a good NCAA tournament team, and the Greivis Vasquez-led Terps quietly have one of the country's most efficient scoring attacks. This one could turn into a rout.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Maryland 119.1 (6) 91.7 (40) .953 (10)

Houston 111.7 (40) 101.0 (165) .762 (85)

4. Cornell (12) vs. Temple (5), East Region (-48)

A lot of people who watched the Big Red's near-upset of Kansas in January decided, right then and there, that Cornell would be their tourney-pool Cinderella. But this a bad matchup for the Ivy League champs, and not just because Owls coach Fran Dunphy is Big Red coach Steve Donahue's former mentor. Temple is a top-five defensive team that thrives in down-tempo games. Cornell's capable of reaching the second round, but it would need to get unseasonably hot to do so. The Owls are that good on D.

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Temple 107.5 (77) 85.7 (3) .931 (18)

Cornell 113.3 (28) 99.2 (139) .822 (66)(Prove your bracket-picking prowess by joining the Tourney Blog pool on Facebook.)

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