The odds to Omaha

The Virginia Cavaliers got hosed.

When I first decided to write this article, I didn’t intend to include much opinion. I was going to run some simulations of the upcoming NCAA tournament and present the results. But then the bracket came out.

Nobody doubts the Cavaliers are good. They are 43-12, a record that puts them among the best college teams this year. They won the ACC tournament last weekend. They don’t play the toughest schedule, but this year, they’ve dominated that schedule. Of those 12 losses, eight were one-run games. Only four of their 43 wins were by a single run. Their Pythagorean winning percentage was .810, the best in the nation and much better than everyone else except Arizona State.

After adjusting for home-field advantage (some schools play far more home games than others) and strength of schedule, Virginia still rates as the best team in the nation. And again, aside from Arizona State, it isn’t even close.

For their performance, did the NCAA grant the Cavaliers one of eight national seeds? Nope. Will they at least host a regional as a No. 1 seed in the first round? Again, no. They’ll go to Irvine at the No. 2 seed to face off with the inexplicably ranked (by my calculations, anyway) national six-seed UC Irvine Anteaters.

But that’s not even the worst of it. In each regional, the first game will take place tomorrow. The No. 1 and No. 4 seeds will face off, as will the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. Most schools will be sending their ace pitcher to the mound.

So who, you may ask, did the Cavs draw for the first game in the bracket? San Diego State. The best-performing team in the nation may get to open its push to Omaha with a matchup against uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg. And—oh yeah—the fourth team in the Irvine regional is defending champion Fresno State. Good luck.

The big picture

Of course, there’s more to the bracket than the fearsome foursome in Irvine. Much as I did last week with the Division II and Division III championships, I wrote a little program to simulate the Division I tournament.

We open the bracket tomorrow with 64 teams. Sixteen regional sites each will host a four-team double-elimination tournament. The winner of each of those regionals will advance to a “super regional,” a best-of-three series against another regional winner.

The eight winners of the super regionals advance to Omaha. They are divided into two four-team double-elimination brackets. Finally, the winner of each of those brackets advances to a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.

Thirty-one of the participants are the winners of their respective conferences. Most are the winners of conference tournaments, though a handful are awarded their spot in the national bracket by finishing the season atop their conference standings. The remaining 33 schools are determined by the NCAA’s Relative Power Index (RPI).

Unlike the NCAA’s RPI, I use runs scored and runs allowed instead of wins and losses. It’s no surprise, then, that there are some differences, like my placing Virginia at the top of the rankings and Irvine all the way down in 28th. The difference also reveals some teams that probably should’ve been awarded at-large bids.

Other teams that got hosed

By my calculations, six teams were among the top 40 in the nation but failed to secure an at-large bid. They start with my 31st best team, Eastern Illinois, and include San Jose State, New Mexico, West Virginia, Dallas Baptist and Creighton.

Except for Virginia (not seeded) and UC Irvine (seeded sixth) as I’ve already mentioned, the eight national seeds aren’t too egregious. East Carolina and Coastal Carolina both have solid claims to be included in the top eight, but after Virginia and Arizona State, the next dozen teams are tightly packed.

Of course, if some teams should’ve gotten at-large bids but didn’t, there must be some schools that were awarded bids they didn’t deserve.

As is always the case, the weakest teams in the tournament aren’t the recipients of at-large bids; they are the winners from weaker conferences. Tennessee Tech won a place at the dance despite giving up more runs than it scored this season. Fresno State just barely ranks in the top half of D1 teams, but won its conference tournament as well. (Of course, nobody’s counting out the Bulldogs until the very last strike.)

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Holder of the weakest claim to an at-large bid is Ohio State, which I rank as 83rd best in D1 with an adjusted Pythagorean winning percentage of .598. Arkansas and Baylor are only a bit stronger, but no at-large bid is too troublesome. My bracket would’ve looked quite a bit different, but I don’t think any of the NCAA’s choices are going to have an effect beyond the first round.

Tournament odds

You clicked on the link, so it’s time I deliver. Here are each team’s chances of advancing to a Super Regional, reaching the College World Series, getting to the final weekend, and going home champions. They are based on my home-field and strength-adjusted runs scored and runs allowed, plus one million simulations of the tournament. Teams are listed in the same order they appear on the bracket.

Team                    SuperReg  Omaha  FinalTwo  Champ  
Texas                      49.9%  32.3%      9.1%   4.6%  
Army                       12.1%   4.6%      0.5%   0.2%  
Boston College             16.1%   6.8%      0.9%   0.3%  
Texas State                21.9%  10.5%      1.8%   0.7%  
Texas Christian            40.8%  19.8%      4.2%   1.8%  
Wright State                6.8%   1.7%      0.1%   0.0%  
Oregon State               28.8%  13.9%      2.9%   1.3%  
Texas A&M                  23.6%  10.5%      1.9%   0.8%  

Georgia Tech               49.9%  31.6%      7.9%   3.9%  
Georgia State               9.5%   3.6%      0.3%   0.1%  
Southern Mississippi       17.0%   7.9%      1.0%   0.3%  
Elon                       23.7%  12.6%      2.1%   0.8%  
Florida                    44.4%  23.2%      4.1%   1.6%  
Bethune Cookman            15.5%   5.4%      0.5%   0.1%  
Jacksonville               11.8%   3.5%      0.2%   0.0%  
Miami (FL)                 28.3%  12.3%      1.7%   0.6%  

Arizona State              60.1%  44.0%     20.4%  12.9%  
Kent State                 10.1%   4.0%      0.7%   0.2%  
Cal Poly                    7.2%   2.4%      0.3%   0.1%  
Oral Roberts               22.6%  11.8%      3.1%   1.4%  
Clemson                    50.8%  21.6%      6.5%   3.2%  
Tennessee Tech              3.3%   0.4%      0.0%   0.0%  
Oklahoma State             21.6%   7.2%      1.5%   0.6%  
Alabama                    24.3%   8.5%      1.9%   0.8%  

East Carolina              55.7%  30.2%      9.4%   4.9%  
Binghamton                  5.0%   1.0%      0.1%   0.0%  
George Mason               22.2%   9.2%      1.7%   0.7%  
South Carolina             17.1%   6.3%      1.0%   0.3%  
North Carolina             44.8%  26.2%      7.5%   3.7%  
Dartmouth                   5.9%   1.6%      0.1%   0.0%  
Kansas                     13.8%   5.4%      0.8%   0.3%  
Coastal Carolina           35.6%  20.2%      6.0%   3.1%  

Cal State Fullerton        59.5%  43.2%     16.5%   9.7%  
Utah                        6.0%   1.9%      0.2%   0.0%  
Gonzaga                    11.1%   4.5%      0.6%   0.2%  
Georgia Southern           23.4%  12.6%      3.0%   1.3%  
Louisville                 42.1%  17.8%      4.3%   1.9%  
Indiana                    11.7%   3.1%      0.3%   0.1%  
Vanderbilt                 20.3%   6.9%      1.2%   0.4%  
Middle Tennessee State     25.9%   9.9%      2.1%   0.8%  

Florida State              47.4%  23.4%      3.9%   1.5%  
Marist                     10.1%   2.8%      0.2%   0.0%  
Ohio State                 17.5%   6.3%      0.5%   0.1%  
Georgia                    25.0%  10.5%      1.2%   0.4%  
Oklahoma                   57.4%  38.7%      8.8%   4.1%  
Wichita State               7.9%   2.6%      0.1%   0.0%  
Washington State           18.5%   8.6%      0.9%   0.3%  
Arkansas                   16.2%   7.1%      0.6%   0.2%  

UC Irvine                  25.5%  14.7%      3.2%   1.2%  
Fresno State                3.5%   0.9%      0.1%   0.0%  
San Diego State             9.5%   4.1%      0.6%   0.2%  
Virginia                   61.5%  47.6%     24.0%  15.9%  
Mississippi                42.3%  15.6%      3.8%   1.6%  
Monmouth                   12.6%   3.0%      0.3%   0.1%  
Western Kentucky           27.6%   9.4%      2.0%   0.8%  
Missouri                   17.5%   4.8%      0.7%   0.2%  

Rice                       41.8%  20.6%      4.3%   1.8%  
Sam Houston State          12.2%   4.0%      0.4%   0.1%  
Xavier                     12.3%   4.0%      0.4%   0.1%  
Kansas State               33.8%  16.8%      3.6%   1.6%  
Louisiana State            55.1%  36.2%     10.2%   5.2%  
Southern                   12.2%   4.6%      0.5%   0.1%  
Baylor                     12.1%   4.5%      0.4%   0.1%  
Minnesota                  20.6%   9.4%      1.4%   0.5%

These are calculated based only on a team’s aggregate performance. There’s no adjustment for Strasburg or any other top pitcher. Despite failing to secure home-field advantage, Virginia still has the best chance of winning it all, followed by Arizona State and Fullerton.

But wait…

It would be impractical to adjust every team’s Friday odds based on the quality of its ace pitcher, but some ace pitchers are, well, acier than others.

Based on my strength ratings, Virginia has a 73.5 percent chance of winning tomorrow’s matchup against San Diego State. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Strasburg starts tomorrow (head coach Tony Gwynn is playing it coy), but if he does, 73.5 percent doesn’t pass the smell test. The Cavaliers are too good to give Strasburg an automatic win, but it’s surely closer to accurate to reverse the odds and give the Aztecs a 73.5 percent chance instead.

If we do that, the look of the Irvine regional changes. It still takes three wins to advance, so one game doesn’t make or break the entire bracket, but it does knock Virginia’s chances down quite a bit:

Team                    SuperReg  Omaha  FinalTwo  Champ
UC Irvine                  32.3%  18.5%      4.0%   1.6%  
Fresno State                5.1%   1.3%      0.1%   0.0%  
San Diego State            22.5%   9.6%      1.4%   0.4%  
Virginia                   40.1%  31.1%     15.6%  10.3%

There’s a lot of baseball to watch this weekend, but my eyes will be on the action in Irvine.

Keep checking The Hardball Times throughout the postseason: I’ll be updating these odds throughout the tournament on THT Live.

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