OK, last post on how unlikely this Final Four is. Promise.
It’s just … it’s hard to wrap one’s head around this, you know? A Final Four without any 1 or 2 seeds? With an 8 and an 11, and the 11 had to win five games just to get here? That’s absurd. People have been trying to put that into context for the past 48 hours. Here are three of the best I’ve read.
So, just how crazy is this meeting of Butler and VCU in the Final Four? I looked at the simple rating system ratings at college basketball reference, going back to 1985. The simple rating system is what it says, simple–it looks at two things, margin of victory and strength of schedule to rank teams. Looking at those rankings for all 108 Final Four teams, Butler and VCU come in at #107 and #108. That’s right, the two lowest rated teams in a Final Four in the last 27 years, in the same season. These weren’t teams that, based on their regular seasons, were tragically underseeded because they came from non-power conferences that did not appreciate their brilliance against a weak schedule. Butler is 52nd in the simple rating system rankings this year; VCU is down at 70th, even including the tournament results.
Compared to other long shots like George Mason (35th in SRS) and Butler 2010 (28th in SRS), that’s a jaw dropper for how they compare to those other teams.
As to the odds of VCU and Butler getting there, well, that’s something much, much smarter people than I can compute.
Virginia Commonwealth, in fact, might be the basketball equivalent of Susan Boyle. In a competition famous for its upsets, the Rams having made it to Houston may be the most unlikely occurrence in the history of the tournament.
Before the tournament began, we had Virginia Commonwealth with just a 12-in-10,000 chance of reaching the Final Four, making the Rams 820-to-1 underdogs. The reason for the extremely long odds were twofold.
Silver also used SRS to slot in other 11 seeds that made the Final Four like George Mason, LSU to compare their odds to VCU’s. George Mason would’ve had 70:1 odds against. LSU was 69:1. 8 seeds like Villanova (’85) and Butler this season were 50:1 and 37:1, respectively. The only team close to matching VCU’s long odds? Penn in 1979. The Quakers were 420:1 to reach the Final Four.
(For what it’s worth, Silver estimates, but doesn’t officially calculate, that Villanova winning it all in 1985 had odds of 800:1.)
Finally, Eammon Brennan traded emails with Ken Pomeroy for his pre-tournament odds on Butler and VCU both reaching the Final Four. The exchange:
“If you take my probabilities literally (nobody does that, do they?) this combo had a 1-in-300 million chance of happening,” Ken Pomeroy, whose influential KenPom.com tracks team efficiency rankings throughout the season, wrote in an email.
Pomeroy noted that his system “overstates” those odds, because his tournament projections “don’t account for the idea that if VCU won its first two or three games, it could be assumed they were underrated and would have a better chance to win successive games than my system would imply.”
Bottom line: Any way you rate it, the odds of this happening were far more than unlikely. They’re simply inconceivable. Maybe that’s why the NCAA tournament is so freaking awesome.
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