March Madness 2020: Simulating the Tournament 100 times

Unfortunately, with the outbreak of Coronavirus we were robbed of one of my favorite times of year, March Madness. I’ve taken it upon myself to see what we could’ve missed this March in a season that was very unpredictable.

Over the course of the season I created and developed a college basketball simulation taking into account both offensive and defensive efficiencies. I adjust for pace and strength of schedule amongst other factors in my formula. I also allow for a wide range of outcomes in any single game based upon this data and some randomization in my program.

Just as you can play the NCAA Tournament and never get the same exact outcome twice, my simulation may never get the same outcome twice. I decided to run my own NCAA Tournament, round by round, for 100 times. I used ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s last bracket as the field for my tournaments. Here, I will share my results of what happened and what we were most likely to see this March. Below is the starting bracket used for these games.


Let’s first look at the results from my first four games that would’ve been played in Dayton.


As you can see these were likely going to be some really good games, pretty evenly matched teams and basically a coin flip as to who would win these games.

Next we dive into the first round matchups, below is each of the matchups, the win total for each team (out of 100 sims) and the average score in those games.


What this really illustrates is how many different ways the tournament could go, and in real life it’s only played once which is why the bracket is so unpredictable.

Next let’s take a look at the number of times a team made it to the Sweet 16.

Sweet 16 Appearancessweet16

Gonzaga leads the way with 78 appearances out of 100. I’ll explain later why, but what really stuck out to me when diving into this is how important the matchups are. In other words, if you’re a 2 seed, your success is greatly influenced by who wins that 7-10 game. For example, Creighton is a 2 seed, they won 89 of their 100 first round games. They then won 53 of the 89 second round games. If we look at it closer, they won 27 out of 37 (73%) second round games against USC and just 36 of 52 (50%) against Illinois. Creighton got a lot farther on average when USC beat Illinois. The whole tournament comes down to matchups, which is what makes it so crazy.

Now, let’s take a moment to see who were the most likely cinderellas. The chart below shows the double-digit seeds with the most sweet 16 appearances.


Let’s look at who made the most final four appearances.


Gonzaga wins 40 of their 56 elite 8 matchups against San Diego State (10), Seton Hall (12), Arizona (14), BYU (10), Texas Tech (5) and Indiana (5). Duke is second with 38, followed by Kansas. Ohio State, who was ranked #2 at one point this season, is in a bracket with one of the weaker combinations of 1 and 2 seeds (Baylor and Creighton).

Finally, let’s see who won the national championship the most. Below is all of the teams who won the tournament more than once.


Gonzaga again comes in first. So are they the best team? Maybe. They also had a route to the championship that played very well for them. Oklahoma/LSU in the second round is the weakest 8/9 matchup (again why Gonzaga had the most Sweet 16 appearances). In the first round Gonzaga played the first four winner (Prairie View/NC Central). Those two are the two weakest teams in the tournament. These are definitely the teams that would’ve had the best chance at the Tournament Title this year. It’s impossible to know exactly which way this year’s tournament was going to go, but at least now we know 100 of the possibilities.









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