Are Upsets Likely?


I have done some research from 2006 to 2011 about how often an upset happens. I took every game in which a Power conference team (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10/12, and Big East) played against a mid-major team (or non-Power conference team) and I found some pretty results. Take a look at what I found!

Since 2006, Power conference schools have a 149-58 record against mid-major schools (72% winning pctg).

In the first round in 2006, Power conference schools had a record of 20-6. The highest seeds to lose that year were Iowa (#3), Arkansas (#8), Kansas (#4), Oklahoma (#6), and Michigan State (#6) (Seton Hall also lost but they were a 10-seed). In the second round, Power conference schools went 4-4. North Carolina (#3), Tennessee (#2), Pittsburgh (#5) all lost to lower seeds. Indiana lost as well but they were the lower seed in their matchup. In the third round, they had a record of 2-0, followed by fourth round record of 1-1, when George Mason upset #1 seed Connecticut. In the fifth round, the Power conference schools went 1-0 when Florida beat George Mason in the Final Four.

In 2007, Power conferences had a first round record of 17-3. The highest seeds that lost that year were: Notre Dame (#6) and Duke (#6).Georgia Tech lost as well but they were the lower-seeded team. In the second round, they had a record of 3-3. UNLV knocked off #2 seeded Wisconsin and Butler beat #4 Maryland, (Southern Illinois beat Virginia Tech, but was the higher-seeded team). In the third round they went 1-1, Memphis beat Texas A&M (Memphis was the higher seed). All mid-major schools were eliminated in the Elite Eight (Memphis lost to Ohio State).

In 2008, they posted a first round record of 17-2. Vanderbilt (#4) and Georgia (#14) lost in the first round. They went 3-3 in the second round. Purdue (#6) lost to higher seeded (#3) Xavier, (#8) Mississippi State lost to #1 Memphis, and #10 Davidson beat #2 Georgetown.  In the third round they went 1-3, losing #3 Wisconsin to Davidson, #5 Michigan State to Memphis, and #7 West Virginia to Xavier. They rebounded in the fourth round to go 2-1, only losing to #2 Texas to Memphis. Memphis wound up losing to Kansas in the national title game.

In 2009, the Power conference dominated the mid-majors. They posted a 18-4 record in the first round, losing only #8 Ohio State, #4 Wake Forest, #6 West Virginia, and #5 Illinois. Then, they went 3-2 in the second round, losing #12 Wisconsin to #4 Xavier and #10 Maryland to #2 Memphis. By the time the third round ended, all the mid-majors were eliminated.

In 2010, some of the “power” started to shift. The Power schools went 16-6 in the first round, losing #3 Georgetown, #9 Florida State, #11 Minnesota, #3 Vanderbilt, #10 Florida, and #6 Notre Dame. In the second round, they went 5-4 and lost #2 Villanova, #4 Wisconsin, #3 Pittsburgh, and #1 Kansas. They rebounded, going 4-1 in the fourth round only losing #1 Syracuse. In the next two rounds, #2 Kansas State and #5 Michigan State were knocked off by #5 Butler. Butler wound up losing to #1 Duke in the national championship.

Finally, last year Power schools went 18-6 in the first round. They lost #9 Villanova, #10 Penn State, #5 Vanderbilt, #4 Louisville, #6 Georgetown, and #6 St. Johns. They went 0-2 in the second round losing #1 Pittsburgh and #3 Purdue. In the third round they had a record of 3-2 with #4 Wisconsin and #10 Florida State losing. They followed that by going 0-2 in the fourth round when they lost #1 Kansas and #2 Florida. In the Final Four, Butler beat the other mid-major VCU. Butler wound up losing the championship to Power school Connecticut.

So how likely are first round upsets? Or how likely are mid-majors to upset a Power conference school in the first round?

Over the past six years, Power conference schools have won 86 of the 113 games played. That comes out to a 76% winning percentage over six years of data. Power conference schools have won 18 of 34 games in the second round (winning 53%). In the third round, their winning percentage jumps back up to 69.5% (16-7). For some reason they take the Elite Eight weekend off, posting a 4-5 record (44%). In the Final Four, they are 1-3 and in the championship game 3-0.

So are upsets likely in the first round? I classify an upset as a team beating another team who is seeded at least 5 seeds higher. In the first round, there is a possibility of 24 upsets because you can go through seeds 1-6 before you and still be 5 seeds higher than your opponent.

So in 2006, there were four teams that lost to teams seeded five or more seeds below them (4 out of 24= 16.67%).

In 2007, there were two upsets (2 out of 24=8.33%).

In 2008, there was only one upset (1 out of 24=4.167%).

In 2009, there were three upsets (3 out of 24=12.5%).

In 2010, there were three again (3 out of 24=12.5%).

And in 2011, four upsets took place (4 out of 24=16.67%).

When you add all the numbers together, out of a possible 144 upsets, only 17 upsets actually happened. 17-144 is a 11.8% (or 12% if you’re a glass half-full type person) that an upset will occur. Although the numbers are so low, the past three years the percentages are up to 13.8% and the last two years 14.5%.

So if you take a look at this year’s bracket, who do you like? Keep in mind, that seeds 4, 5, 6 are the most common seeds that get beat in the first round. The #6 seed has accounted for 53% of all upsets that have taken place in the first round since 2006 (9 out of 17). And out of the possible 24 6 v. 11 games that have been played since 2006, the 11th seed has a 37.5% chance of winning.

When I look at the bracket this year, no Power conference teams play mid-majors in the 6 v. 11 game, so let’s move on.

The #5 seed has been included in 2 of the 17 upsets (or 12%). Vanderbilt plays Harvard in the only 5-12 game in which a Power conference school is the highest seed. Although the 12-seed has only won 2 out of a possible 24 games against the 5-seed since 2006, Vanderbilt lost as a 5-seed last season.

Onto the 4 v. 13 matchup where Louisville plays Davidson, Michigan plays Ohio, Indiana plays VCU, and Wisconsin plays Montana. 4-seeds have lost 4 out 24 games in the first round since 2006. But of the possible upsets, a 13 beating a 4 is the second most likely (23.5%). People are saying that Ohio can beat Michigan and Montana can beat Wisconsin. Picking one of those games wouldn’t be a bad idea.

That’s all I have for now. I will write later about who I think can pull off an upset. In the meantime, enjoy this!

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