Bracket analysis: Would the NCAA *really* match up Cyclones, Hawkeyes in Round 2? Here's what 34 years of history says.
Our friends at USA TODAY sure made waves in Iowa with their latest NCAA Tournament projection this week.
Iowa and Iowa State are safely in the field of 68. More than safe, actually. But with the Hawkeyes as a No. 5 seed and the Cyclones in a fourth-seed spot, there was a chance for a little Midwest sports Armageddon.
And wouldn't you know it ... the two teams were slotted to play against each other in a second-round game in San Jose, California, if the bracket held up.
Now, we're still 40 days from Selection Sunday. There's a lot of basketball still to be played, and you can find lots of bracketologists plying their trade and hoping to create a little buzz.
In essence, this projection is like throwing a rock you can fit in the palm of your hand into one of the Great Lakes — a plop and a couple ripples, but nothing's really changed.
If that rock is displacing the water right next door, though, then you at least turned your head. And that news certainly fit the "take notice" category in Iowa.
So it raises the question: Could this sort of dreamed-up matchup actually become reality come March Madness?
I combed through every NCAA Tournament bracket since the 64-team era began in 1985 to find your answer. I searched for second-round matchups set up by the selection committee that would pit two teams from the same state against one another if those brackets held to their seeds.
The findings (drum roll, please)? Don't hold your breath.
Buuuuut ... it has happened.
There are four instances in those 34 tournaments where in-state foes have found their way into a round-of-32 tussle:
- 1986: Kentucky (No. 1 seed) vs. Western Kentucky (No. 8) in Charlotte
- 1998: North Carolina (1) vs. Charlotte (8) in Hartford, Connecticut
- 2015: Notre Dame (3) vs. Butler (6) in Pittsburgh
- 2015: Kansas (2) vs. Wichita State (7) in Omaha, Nebraska. (Of note here: Wichita State was the only lower-seeded team to win one of these games, and this was the first time the Jayhawks and Shockers had played each other at all since the 1992-93 season.)
There was one more potential showdown that got derailed here: Texas A&M (No. 3 seed) vs. Texas (No. 6) in Oklahoma City in 2016. Something tells me Northern Iowa fans know just a little bit about that.
This sort of matchup has also taken place three other times by "accident." In other words, a first-round upset, according to the seeding, created an intrastate clash in the second round.
- 2007: Ohio State (1) vs. Xavier (9) in Lexington, Kentucky
- 2018: West Virginia (5) vs. Marshall (13) in San Diego
- 2018: Purdue (2) vs. Butler (10) in Detroit
All told, one could look at that 34-year history in a couple of ways. By pure math, the odds of this occurring are horrible. Even by the most generous standards, that's seven occurrences in 34 tournaments, or basically once every five years. Go deeper, and that's seven times out of a possible 544 instances (16 mini-regionals in any season's bracket multiplied by those 34 years). Or, 1.29 percent.
WANT MORE ANALYSIS LIKE THIS? Support locally-focused journalism with a subscription.
Another point worth mentioning that I believe takes these odds even lower: If the game actually played out, it would be a rematch of the teams' Dec. 6 regular-season contest (a 98-84 Hawkeyes victory), and that's a scenario the NCAA likes to avoid. Plus, it's a matchup that's played out every season since 1970.
For what it's worth, the selection committee was fine with that scenario in that 2016 Texas-Texas A&M game-that-wasn't, and then it occurred for real in that unforeseen Purdue-Butler contest last year.
One final thought: This game doesn't even have a prayer of taking place in the first weekend if both teams don't stay on similar seeding structures. In other words, a 4-5 matchup, or a 6 against a 3, or a 7-2. Given how many games still have to play out, there's potential for more movement that would make this whole concept mathematically impossible, anyway.
Put that all together, and I'd say the chances of this game happening are about 1 in 150. Or 0.67 percent.
If your reaction to these odds is "well, that's dumb," I suppose I understand. To me, though, such a situation would feel more like an after-school playground dust-up than a statewide celebration of basketball success. It's only February, and my supplies of anger and animosity are pretty well spent.
A massive shoutout to the website AllBrackets.com, which has the results of every men's tournament game ever played in one place. If you enjoy the NCAA Tournament at all, go get lost on there for an hour. Its presence made this research a lot easier than it should have been.
NET gains and losses
Let's keep this weekly feature brief. A reminder that we're looking at changes in how the NCAA's new evaluation tool views individual victories and defeats for each team.
They're divided into four categories, or "quadrants":
- Quadrant 1: Home games against teams ranked 1-30; neutral-site games against teams ranked 1-50; road games against teams ranked 1-75.
- Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Road 76-135.
- Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Road 136-240.
- Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Road 241-353.
The top two quadrants are further divided (you know, for bonus points):
- Quadrant 1A: Home 1-15, Neutral 1-25, Road 1-40.
- Quadrant 1B: Home 16-30, Neutral 26-50, Road 41-75.
- Quadrant 2A: Home 31-55, Neutral 51-75, Road 76-100.
- Quadrant 2B: Home 56-75, Neutral 76-100, Road 101-135.
Iowa (17-5, NET 23) was the big winner here, of course, given last Friday's conquering of then-No. 5 Michigan. That's a Quadrant 1A victory that should hold in place the rest of the way.
Iowa's schedule strength will continue to see some movement; this week, it cancels each other out. A Quadrant 1 win against Nebraska a month ago has now become a Q2 badge, as the Huskers' kernels continue to circle the drain.
It'd help the Hawkeyes if Penn State made even the smallest of surges, as that Jan. 16 road win is now the best-possible Q2 game (with the Nittany Lions at NET 76). The Northwestern road victory (NET 72) is also now in danger of dropping a rung.
Further down the ladder, the Nov. 27 Pittsburgh home win has dropped to Q3 (boo!), and the Northern Iowa Hy-Vee Classic win has crept back into Q3 territory (whew!).
Iowa State (18-5, NET 13), meanwhile, is trucking along, with its sights set on the Big 12 Conference title race and a potential berth in Des Moines.
The Cyclones avoided home pitfalls against West Virginia (Q3) and Texas (Q2) last week and scored an important road win against Oklahoma (Q1A) on Monday.
The struggles of Oklahoma State (NET 84) hurt Iowa State somewhat, with both their road and home victories knocked down a peg (now Q2 and Q3, respectively). But the neutral-site Maui Invitational win over Illinois (NET 88) has moved into Q2 territory for now.
As far as the computers are concerned, the only poison-pill game remaining is the one at West Virginia (NET 101) on March 6. Otherwise, any other win on the schedule will be a good win.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES
(All rankings and projections as of Wednesday)
NCAA NET: No. 13
Ken Pomeroy: No. 12, 23-8 projected overall record
Jeff Sagarin: No. 15
ESPN BPI: No. 13
USA TODAY Sports projection: South Region, No. 4 seed, vs. Old Dominion in San Jose, California
ESPN projection: South Region, No. 5 seed, vs. New Mexico State in Salt Lake City
CBS Sports projection: West Region, No. 6 seed, vs. Play-in winner in Jacksonville, Florida
Bracketville projection (the top-rated metric with a history of 10-plus years predicting brackets, according to the Bracket Matrix): Midwest Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Play-in winner in San Jose
NCAA NET: No. 23
Ken Pomeroy: No. 23, 22-9 projected overall record
Jeff Sagarin: No. 27
ESPN BPI: No. 28
USA TODAY Sports projection: South Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Murray State in San Jose
ESPN projection: South Region, No. 6 seed, vs. Wofford in Tulsa, Oklahoma
CBS Sports projection: South Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Belmont in San Jose
Bracketville projection: West Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Hofstra in Salt Lake City
Lastly, a plea
This is the fourth installment of a weekly bracket analysis series from now through Selection Sunday. I have a couple of future spin-off points to lead other articles, but I want to hear from you. Need parts of bracket math or advanced rankings explained? What have you been curious about regarding how the NCAA Tournament field is selected? The goal is to inform, entertain and maybe even enlighten. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome the feedback.
And thanks for reading.
Sports reporter and producer Danny Lawhon has been at the Register since 2012, working in a variety of sports and news capacities. He writes on the evolving online sports conversation in Iowa and contributes to the editing and social media operation. Follow Danny on Twitter @DannyLawhon.