Thursday, December 4, 2014

Preview of 2014 NCAA Women's Tourney

With play in the NCAA women's tournament bracket beginning tonight, I wanted to provide a few statistical tidbits in advance.

If there is one team whose players, coaches, and fans have a right to be upset with the seedings, it's Wisconsin. Last year's national runner-up to Penn State, the Badgers closed this season winning 19 straight matches and captured the Big 10 crown. But now, if Wisconsin is to get back to the Final Four, it will have to beat Penn State along the way, in the Elite Eight (barring an upset loss by the Nittany Lions in an earlier round).

As well as the Badgers have played this season (and the latter part of last season), Penn State has been Wisconsin's Kryptonite the past two years. In fact, PSU has won 12 of the 13 games it has played against Wisconsin in 2013 and 2014 (two 3-0 regular-season sweeps and a 3-1 win in the NCAA title match last year, and a 3-0 sweep in the teams' only meeting this year).


As longtime readers of this blog are aware, the way I like to evaluate teams heading into the NCAA tournament is by dividing a team's season-long hitting percentage by the cumulative hitting percentage it allowed its opponents during the season. I also multiply the result by a "fudge factor" (usually a little above or below 1.00) to reflect my impression of conferences' national competitiveness. Predicting the winner of a match by which team has the higher score on my simple measure has done about as well as more complicated algorithms in forecasting NCAA tournament results (here and here). The formula is shown here.

For the top eight seeded teams in the 2014 NCAA women's tournament, here are their scores:

1. Stanford... (.316/.176) (1.25) = 2.24
2. Texas........(.288/.151) (1.20) = 2.29
3. Washington...(.312/.175) (1.25) = 2.23
4. Wisconsin.....(.287/.163) (1.25) = 2.20
5. Penn State.....(.351/.142) (1.25) = 3.09
6. Florida State....(.271/.181) (1.10) = 1.65
7. North Carolina.....(.261/.164) (1.10) = 1.75
8. Florida...(.320/.162) (1.00) = 1.98

Last year's NCAA champion (and No. 2 seed) Penn State entered the 2013 tournament with a score of 2.91, to 1.69 for runner-up No. 12-seed Wisconsin (last year's Badgers hit.233 and allowed their opponents a .172 percentage). No. 7-seed Stanford, which gave PSU a very tight match in the Elite Eight, compiled a 2.30 in the 2013 regular season. None of the other top eight seeded teams last year exceeded 2.13.


Here's another note about Penn State: Following up on a midseason posting, the Nittany Lions successfully finished the season as the only major team in the nation to score at least 20 points in every game this season (excluding fifth games). PSU lost three matches this season, as well as one or two games in some matches it won. But even in losing games, the Nittany Lions never dropped below 20 points. Since I last posted on the topic, Penn State lost only two more games (at Purdue), but scored 23 and 22 points in them. To me, this shows that PSU sticks around in every game and never makes things easy for an opponent.


Recent history suggests no need to raise the SEC's strength factor from its current 1.00. Last year, for example, two highly seeded teams from the conference, No. 4 Missouri and No. 5 Florida, each exited in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

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