The rapid reaction following Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket reveal: the Midwest region is the toughest.
The Midwest features the bracket’s top overall team in No. 1 seed Louisville and second-seeded Duke, which was one of two teams that came up just short in its bid for a No. 1 seed.
But the numbers say the South might be the best region, though it’s clear the South and Midwest are a cut above the rest.
Using four common metrics to evaluate the top four teams in each region, the Midwest ranks as the best or second-best region by all four measures.
According to the NCAA Selection Committee’s official rankings of all the teams in the tournament, the Midwest’s top four squads had an average of 8.3, second to the South’s 8.0. Although Louisville was the top overall seed and Duke was the second-best No. 2, Michigan State and St. Louis were the second-worst No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.
Advanced statistics also favor the South in a close call against the Midwest. Statistician Ken Pomeroy ranks teams by a Pythagorean, or expected, winning percentage based on the team’s results and strength of schedule. The South gets a boost to the top by Pomeroy’s rankings, which rate third-seeded Florida as the nation’s best team. The top four teams in the South have an average Pythagorean rating of .942 according to Pomeroy, slightly better than the Midwest’s .938. The East and the West chime in at .921 and .919, respectively, as teams like Ohio State, New Mexico and Miami fare worse according to advanced statistics compared to conventional polls.
Jeff Sagarin’s college basketball ratings, which are built on some of the same advanced metrics as Pomeroy’s rankings, put Louisville ahead of the pack by such a large margin that Duke’s Midwest region ekes out ahead at an average of 90.8 compared to the South’s 90.7 average rating. The West and the East sit comfortably behind at 89.1 and 89.0, respectively.
The AP Poll refuses to settle the debate between Pomeroy and Sagarin for the toughest region, as the Midwest and the South tie with an average ranking of 7.5 in the latest poll released Monday. The South comes behind with an average ranking of 8.75, and the East brings up the rear at 10.0.