Blog Entry

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Posted on: January 1, 2009 1:40 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2009 1:42 pm

I was on a radio station in Arkansas yesterday talking about the Hogs' win over Oklahoma when the conversation turned to postseason aspirations. I commented that Arkansas looked as much like an NCAA tournament team as anybody at this point, and that if the goal was a Sweet Sixteen then that seemed possible to me, if only because any tournament team from a power conference will usually be one of the top 12 seeds in a region, and as long as you're not an eight-seed or nine-seed it's reasonable to hope to advance past the first weekend because all you have to do is win what is typically a winnable first game, then hope the bracket breaks in your favor like it did for Western Kentucky last March, when the Hilltoppers beat Drake and San Diego to advance.

So anyway, that was my main point -- not that Arkansas is necessarily one of the best 16 teams in the country, but that a tournament team from a power league almost always has a chance to advance to the second weekend, and now I'm ready to take it a step farther in light of what we've seen this week and suggest that any so-called top 30 team can reasonably hope for a trip to the Final Four because it's clear multiple flawed teams will get there given that there is only one truly elite squad: North Carolina.

Just this week, No. 2 Connecticut, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 9 Purdue have all gone down while preseason top 10 teams Gonzaga and Louisville took their fourth and third losses, and when you compare what's happening this season to what happened last season it really puts things into perspective. Consider that last season it was easy to identify four elite teams pretty much from the start, specifically Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA. Those schools were ranked first, second, third and fourth in the preseason poll, and on New Year's Day they were a combined 49-1 with the lone loss of the bunch belonging to UCLA, which had fallen only by two points to No. 8 Texas.

This season, the top four teams in the preseason poll were North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville and UCLA, and on New Year's Day they have a combined record of 42-6. North Carolina is great, obviously, but Connecticut lost its Big East opener at home, Louisville has no good wins and three losses to unranked opponents, and UCLA has no good wins to go with its two defeats. Consequently, I submit -- and I've said this before, but now I have the stats to back it up -- that UNC is better than any team from last season, but that nobody else is even close to as good as Kansas, Memphis, UNC or UCLA was last season, meaning that if you combined all the teams from last season and this season your top five would look like this:

1. North Carolina (2008-2009)
2. Kansas (2007-2008)
3. Memphis (2007-2008)
4. North Carolina (2007-2008)
5. UCLA (2007-2008)

Bottom line, dream big Clemson!

And you too, West Virginia!

And you too, Baylor!

Sure, on the surface, none of you look like Final Four teams in the traditional sense. But the thing about the Final Four is that four schools have to be there, and any combination featuring North Carolina and three other teams seems possible this season because there aren't four teams clearly better than the next 30, and that fact has been on display all week, every night.


Since: Jan 4, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 12:27 pm

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Bob Huggins has already turned these freshmen around and kicked OSU's butt.  If they continue to shoot well ( foul shots and 3's ) look for them somewhere around  sweet 16 to final 4.  Now next year look out they are going to be tough.


Since: Jul 16, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 12:13 pm

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Well said Gary.  I can't remember a number one team looking this dominate in a while.  The Tar Heels have been crushing mediocre teams the past few weeks and many people around Chapel Hill are talking about how the team looks like it has a Holiday Hangover.  If UNC is just getting warmed up, who knows how good they could be once they are running on all cylinders. 

They better be up to speed by that Jan. 11 match up with Wake Forest.  That should be a great game.

Since: Sep 18, 2008
Posted on: January 2, 2009 11:34 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Oh, the Schindler's List of Jim Belushi movies.

Since: Jan 2, 2009
Posted on: January 2, 2009 9:34 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Great post, Gary. Despite the seeming advance of Mid-Majors over the last few years, it is true that the "Big Six" power conferences tend to have a statistical advantage in advancing in the tourney.If you look at the 24-year performance of Mid-Majors against the Power conferences, you’ll see they’re clearly second-fiddle. They win less often (.430 winning percentage to .612), they account for just 13 of the 96 Final Four contenders, and they have fewer championships (2 to 22). Finally, despite the lower expectations that an average 9.3 seed brings, they have a lower performance against seed expectations.

That's a statistical calculation that describes the average number of wins a team attains above or below the number its seed position would dictate that it achieves. PASE is calculated by tallying the positive or negative differences between actual and expected wins at each seed position. The total of these differences is then divided by the number of appearances to arrive at an average number of games the team either over-performs or under-performs per tournament. For instance, the average No. 1 seed wins 3.42 games per tourney, while the average No. 2 seed nets 2.41 wins per dances. If a given coach appeared in the tournament once as a top seed and again as a No. 2 seed, his expected win total would be 5.83 games. If he actually won seven games, he would’ve “overperformed” by 1.17 games for his two appearances—for a healthy PASE value of +0.554 (1.17/2 appearances).

The 719 Big Six teams are 16.5 games above seed expectations for a PASE of +.023. The Mid-Majors are 9 games below expectations for a -.018 PASE. The only Mid-Major conferences with overachieving PASE numbers for the last decade are the Horizon (+.323). the Mid-American (+.183), the Colonial (+.129--all on the strength of George Mason's run) and the WAC (+.031). The worst Mid-Major? Conference USA, with a underachieving PASE of -.166.

You can read more tourney analysis like this as

Since: Jul 8, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 9:05 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

wwwhogg, unc always has an easy road to the final 4??? are we ignoring last year (unc had by far the toughest road to the final 4 of the 4 1 seeds)... and the year before?

Since: Jan 16, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 8:17 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

I agree that UNC is the top dog, but I firmly believe there is a team out there that could hang with them---Pitt. 

The absence of four standout teams is the best thing that could happen for college basketball.  The tournament isn' t nearly as exciting if you already know who's going to be there at the end.

Since: Jan 16, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 8:13 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?


Your comment is the smartest thing I've read on this website in a month.  Know-nothings always do win tourney pools, for the exact reason you are saying.

Since: Feb 8, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 2:52 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

I take it you weren't a fan of Red Heat.

Since: Sep 18, 2008
Posted on: January 2, 2009 12:47 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Gary Parrish! Love this article. Terrific. Now I have a question for you. I'm throwing down the gauntlet. What will you do if the 2009 Final Four features North Carolina, Clemson, West Virginia, and Baylor? I don't mean eat goldfish or watch Jim Belushi movies. I mean something crazy--although I submit watching Jim Belushi movies IS up there. Because at this point, I don't see why those teams couldn't make it. Here's another angle: how long are wins over teams like Purdue, Louisville, Memphis, etc. going to be considered good until they beat somebody or stop losing at home, or both? (I don't count Purdue's blowout of Davidson because I'm not very impressed with Curry and the Pussycats so far.) Even UConn's best win--Gonzaga in Seattle--looks less and less impressive with each passing day. Hell, Portland State, for God's sake, one-upped the Huskies and beat the Zags in Spokane. Throw the Vikings into the mix. I think it's the law of averages. When you have four number one seeds make the Final Four--and there was never really a question that they would--there has to be a drop-off. Frankly, despite the fact that North Carolina looks more and more like a lead-pipe cinch to win the title, the parity from numbers 2 to 30 makes this season seem like it will be a very fun one.

Here's my Final Four, just for the hell of it: North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona State, Butler.

And I'll watch a Jim Belushi movie.

Since: Dec 23, 2007
Posted on: January 2, 2009 12:27 am

Can your team make the Final Four? Sure, why not?

Man... Mr. Parrish will look silly when UNC loses in the round of eight...

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