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Parallel University: March Madness, The Sweet Sixteen

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Somewhere out there, perhaps, the field of 68 just got cut to 8

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest. The world is a pretty scary place right now. While the real NCAA Tournament was, of course, cancelled, it is a fun distraction to think about what might have happened if the Tournament went ahead as planned. Over the past few weeks, I have exploring a possible parallel universe where exactly that happened, using the results of a single Monte Carlo simulation.

Under normal circumstances, the Sweet 16 would have played out over the last two days. How would that have played out? In at least one specific parallel universe, maybe it went something like this:

Midwest Region Semifinals

In action on Thursday in Indianapolis, the results were as follows:

  • No. 2 Michigan State pulled away from No. 3 Villanova, 75-62
  • No. 1 Kansas beat No. 5 BYU, 71-66

As for the MSU game, perhaps the game went something like this: MSU’s starters struggled mightily from the field in the first half, and trailed early. With MSU trailing by four at the under twelve minute time out, Coach Izzo went to the bench for a spark, and boy did they deliver.

Marcus Bingham hit a three from the top of key, to spark a run. Thomas Kithier scored on two offensive rebound put-backs, including a three-point play. A few minutes later, he even hit a three from the corner in a late shot-clock situation. Gabe Brown joined the party by hitting a three in transition and getting to the free throw line for four more. By the time the starters got back into the game, MSU had gone on an 18-to-6 run and led by eight.

The starters took it from there. Rocket Watts put up a team-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while Winston chipped in 14 points and 7 assists. Meanwhile, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry struggled from the field, yet dominated defensively and on and glass. Tillman finished with only 7 points but 12 rebounds, while Henry pitched in 5 points, all on late free throws, and 8 rebounds.

Hall managed to put up only 4 points, but did contribute 5 rebounds. Kyle Arhens put up 7 points and 4 rebounds, all in the second half. In general MSU shot poorly, especially early, shooting 36 percent overall and only 27 percent from three. But, they nonetheless advanced to the Regional Final to face the Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Kansas.

West Region Semifinals

Also in action on Thursday in Los Angeles, the results were as follows:

  • No. 3 Kentucky blow past No. 7 Illinois, 79-57
  • No. 5 Ohio State ended the season of No. 9 Rutgers, 69-65

This result sets up an unexpected rematch of the December 21st contest between the Wildcats and Buckeyes, which Ohio State won. Despite the seeds, Kenpom data suggests that Ohio State may have been favored in this high stakes rematch.

East Region Semifinals

In Friday night action in New York City, the simulation spit out the following surprise results.

  • No. 4 Maryland upset No. 1 Dayton, 70-66
  • No. 7 Arizona upset No. 3 Seton Hall, 71-70, I am assuming on a buzzer beater

This would guarantee that the Final Four will have at least one team seeded no higher that a No. 4, which is, of course, completely normal. This has been the case for the last 10 consecutive tournaments.

South Region Semifinals

Also on Friday night in Houston, the final set of Sweet 16 game were played, with the following results:

  • No. 2 Creighton beats No. 6 Michigan, 72-67
  • No. 8 Saint Mary’s upsets No. 4 Wisconsin, 68-62

As for the Michigan loss, I can only imagine that it went down something like this:

Creighton played inspired throughout the game, partially due to a UofM locker room video of the Wolverines celebrating a presumed trip to the Final Four following the Wolverines win over South Alabama and Baylor’s upset loss to St. Mary’s.

Michigan had previously beaten both No. 2 Creighton and No. 4 Wisconsin earlier in the season, and their players and fans showed clear signs of over-confidence. UofM players were not available for interviews following the loss.

After these results, the bracket would look like this:

In the simulated Sweet 16, there were 3 total upsets, which is consistent with the simulated and historical averages. As for my picks, I would have successfully gotten correct four of the Elite 8: Kansas, MSU, OSU, and Arizona. That might have kept me alive, for now, in my office pool.

Looking ahead to the Elite Eight match-ups, the MSU-Kansas game is the clear marquee match-up and may even have been referred to as the defacto National Title game. How will those games turn out? Who will make the Final Four? Just like it was a normal year, we will have our results by Sunday night. Stay tuned.