March Madness Isn’t Really

I went to Ohio State, a school populated almost exclusively by students who do not like to lose at anything. So when the sixth-ranked Buckeyes lost to 11th ranked Dayton (ugh…Dayton) in the NCAA basketball tournament, it certainly felt like this March, of all Marches, was particularly mad. Our disbelief at the chaos the gods have bestowed upon the basketball world seemed justified by Harvard winning, Syracuse losing to Dayton, and Wichita State’s perfect season ending at the hands of eighth-ranked Kansas.

But is March Madness this year really as especially crazy as it feels?

Turns out, it’s actually pretty average. The mean ranking of a sweet-16 team this year is 4.9 and was 4.4 from  2006-2013 (no, that difference is not statistically significant (t=-1.12, df=124)).

Composition of Sweet 16If the rankings were perfectly prescient, the sweet-16 would be comprised of the teams holding the top four rankings in each of the four brackets. 63.5% of the top four teams made the sweet-16 this year, right in line with the historical average of 67%. There aren’t many more Cinderella teams either. A quarter of teams in the sweet-16 were ranked eighth or lower, not significantly different from on the historical average of 19%.

This year’s March Madness, statistically, isn’t much madder than normal. But when it comes to explaining why my Buckeyes lost, I’m going to ignore the numbers and blame the gods who have clearly gone crazy.


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