Is Louisville’s Region Toughest? Who’s the Betting Favorite? NCAA Tournament By the Numbers

An evening and morning have passed for basketball-obsessed Louisville to consider the pairings for the 2013 men’s basketball NCAA Tournament. Some themes that have developed are that the Louisville Cardinals’ Midwest Region is the toughest despite being the overall No. 1 seed and the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats being left out of the field.

Aside from the obvious question—”Who wins?”—this year’s bracket leaves a great deal to think about. Let’s take a look at the pairing by the numbers.

U of L’s Midwest Region was instantly pegged by analysts as the toughest, and a few Cardinals fans grumbled on social media Sunday night. They may have a point.

Let’s toss out No. 16 seeds—none has ever beaten a No. 1 seed. (Apologies to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.) If the better seeds win out, no team has a tougher road to the Final Four than Louisville, going by RPI ranking. The Nos. 8, 4 and 2 seeds in the Midwest average a 13.3 RPI ranking. (In fact, the No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils are the RPI’s No. 1 team in the nation.)

The Nos. 8, 4 and 2 seeds Kansas would face average a No. 15 RPI ranking; for Indiana, it’s 16.3 and for Gonzaga it’s 25.

NCAA Selection Committee chair Mike Bobinski told ESPN that they don’t use an “S-curve”—pairing the strongest No. 1 seed against the weakest No. 2, and so on. Instead, the decision was made based on region. The Cardinals get to start the NCAA Tournament campaign in Lexington and would play in the regional finals in Indianapolis.

Kentucky fans aren’t thrilled about heading for the NIT a year after winning a national championship, but it’s not unprecedented.

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, five schools have failed to make the field a year after winning the championship. The last time it happened was in 2010 with the North Carolina Tar Heels.  The first time it happened was in 1987—with the Louisville Cardinals.

The Kentucky Wildcats have twice won the NIT, in 1946 and 1976.

Four teams in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll didn’t make the tournament—Kentucky (preseason ranked No. 3), Baylor (No. 19), UConn (No. 23) and Florida State (No. 25).

Marquette and New Mexico were the highest-seeded teams (both No. 3s) to be unranked in the preseason poll.

As mentioned before, no No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, though some speculate that the apparent parity in this year’s field means that the time has come.

How have the Hilltoppers fared, historically, against the Kansas Jayhawks?

Here’s Chad Bishop, the WKU beat writer for the Bowling Green Daily News:

Lastly, the Cardinals are favored to win the tournament—but they’re not an overwhelming favorite. Here are some odds from the popular Irish betting site PaddyPower.com.

Louisville Cardinals 11/2 (No. 1 pick)

Indiana Hoosiers 7/1 (No. 2 pick)

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 500/1 (tied for last)

(Photo via Shutterstock.)

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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