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Daniel Wilco | | March 22, 2018

Predicting the Sweet 16 teams that will make it to the Final Four

Versus Breakdown: Kentucky vs. Kansas State

Predicting the Final Four is never an easy task. But that won’t stop us from trying.

After analyzing data from the past five tournaments, here’s what we think this year's Final Four will look like:

South: Kentucky
West: Gonzaga
Midwest: Clemson
East: Texas Tech

So, how did we get there?

We looked at 20 different stats for the 20 Final Four teams since 2013, and found our baseline for each — a number that 90 percent of past Final Four teams performed equal to or better than. Call it championship DNA.


By comparing a team to the baseline, we could count how many of their stats fell below the baseline. We'll call this the team's baseline count. A lower baseline count is better, as it shows that a team is statistically similar to previous Final Four teams.

For the past 20 Final Four teams, the average baseline count was 1.95, and no team had a baseline count higher than 8 (Syracuse in 2016). Of the past five champions, none came in higher than 1:

Year Champion Seed Baseline count
2013 Louisville 1 0
2014 UConn 7 1
2015 Duke 1 0
2016 Villanova 2 0
2017 UNC 1 1

What's more, three of the past five runners-up had a baseline count of 1 or 0, with 2016 UNC at 2, and 2014 Kentucky — just the third-ever 8-seed to make the championship game — at 3.

So, with that data in mind, let’s move to this year’s Sweet 16.

Here’s what each team looks like:

(click to expand chart)

The average baseline count for this year’s Sweet 16 teams is 4.1. Eight teams scored a 2 or better, while six had a baseline count of 6 or greater.

It’s no surprise that four of the seven worst scores come out of the South region.

That regional was the most chaotic we’ve ever seen. It was the first regional in NCAA tournament history where the last four teams don’t include a 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed. Only 405 brackets of the millions entered in our Bracket Challenge Game were prescient enough to get that perfect.

Nevada wins after 22-point comeback

Back to predictions.

Looking at the baseline counts, the top four teams from each region are Clemson (0), Gonzaga (0), Kentucky (5) and, in the East, a tie between Texas Tech (1) and Purdue (1).

However, Purdue’s Isaac Haas was one of four Boilermakers averaging at least 8 points per game, and will most likely miss the game after fracturing his elbow in the first round, dropping Purdue's Sweet 16 team to 2 points, and out of the race.

Is this an infallible prophecy of who will be left standing in San Antonio? Not even close. There are a ridiculous amount of factors and randomness in March Madness that make the games near impossible to predict, and amazing to watch. But if the past five years can give us a hint, don’t be surprised to see the first Final Four without a 1 or 2 seed since 2011.

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