The Final Four: Why You Should Bet “On Wisconsin”

Florida is the Vegas favorite to cut down the nets Monday night. But that doesn’t mean betting on them gives the best odds for bettors. I preview each match-up from a statistical point of view, and provide the chances each team has of moving on to the title game, and becoming the NCAA basketball champion.

Wisconsin v. Kentucky (-2)

This game pits a talented, yet under-performing Kentucky squad full of future NBA players coached by the legendary John Calipari against the last Big Ten hopeful, Wisconsin, in its first final four in the 13 years Bo Ryan has been at the helm. Vegas has jumped on-board the Kentucky bandwagon and has made them a 2 point favorite over Wisconsin. My numbers disagree.

The cluster analysis I performed last week, I have enhanced by including tempo into the equation. This gives me two sets of clusters. The first set has eight clusters of teams where tempo is not included, while the second set has seven clusters with tempo included. We can then group the teams into a possible 56 clusters (eight clusters multiplied by seven clusters), however, only 28 clusters of teams are formed. This isn’t unexpected, as the only difference was the inclusion of tempo, so teams that were similar in the first cluster analysis often will be similar in the second cluster analysis. Wisconsin is a Type 7 team in the first analysis, and a Type 6 team in the second analysis; I notate this as (7,6). Kentucky falls into group (5,4). As it turns out, (7,6) vs. (5,4) has occurred 164 times in the 2013-2014 NCAA basketball season, with (5,4) winning 83 times and (7,6) winning 81 times. Additionally (5,4) teams have won more despite being ranked lower on average according to Pomeroy’s ratings. Type (7,6) teams had an expected winning percentage of 54.0% so combined with a 164 game sample size, the 83 wins by (5,4) teams could have occurred by pure chance (p = 0.13). Thus, we cannot prove that (5,4) teams match-up well against (7,6) teams, so we provide no match-up bonus to Kentucky.

This is confirmed by the fact that Wisconsin has been quite successful against Kentucky-type teams this year, going 7-1 against (5,4) teams with the sole loss coming to Minnesota on the road (they beat the Gophers two other times). This 87.5% win rate is in line with a 79.0% expected winning percentage. Wisconsin recently dismantled Baylor, who as Mike Portscheller at btn.com points out, is quite similar in style to Kentucky. In fact, they are so similar that my two cluster analyses indeed pitted Baylor as a (5,4) team, just like Kentucky. Kentucky, on the other hand, has gone 1-1 against (7,6) teams, with a win over Boise St. and a loss against Michigan St.

Also, I built a predictive model to predict offensive and defensive efficiency using a regression model with Pomeroy’s four factors as inputs in predicting offensive and defensive efficiency for each team. Normally, I’d adjust Pomeroy’s four factors for strength of schedule, but the difference in each team’s schedule strength is negligible to this analysis, so I stick with unadjusted values. The model predicts Wisconsin to score 110.2 points per 100 possessions and Kentucky to score 108.1 points per 100 possessions. With no match-up adjustment, this means Wisconsin should win 60.9% of the time.

Throw in the injury to Willie Cauley-Stein (who hasn’t been ruled out, but I’m counting as out, or at best ineffective) and Wisconsin definitely has the edge, expected to win 63.1% of the time. Wisconsin moves on.

Prediction: Wisconsin 69, Kentucky 63.

Florida (-6) v. Connecticut

The earlier game produces a rematch from earlier in the year where the home Huskies edged out a one-point victory over Florida in Storrs. Since then Florida has not lost, reeling off 30 straight wins en route to the #1 overall seed in the tournament.

Florida falls into the (6,5) group of teams while Connecticut is a (7,2). Here, the cluster analysis again predicts no match-up difference. Adjusting for missing players actually gives a slight advantage to Florida. One of Florida’s losses (to Wisconsin on the road) came with Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin sidelined, giving Florida a small boost in each area of the four factors when accounting for this. On the other hand, while two of the Huskies’ losses came while missing key players, they also went 3-2 in other games when their opponents were missing key players. This produces a near neutral net effect, with minimal changes to each component of the four factors. Using the regression model using the missing player adjusted four factors, Florida is expected to win 75.1% of the time.

UConn’s Cinderella run comes to an end, and the Gators advance and cover the six point spread.

Prediction: Florida 65, Connecticut 56.

NCAA Championship Game

Using the probabilities above it’s easy to calculate each the odds for each potential match-up. Here are the probabilities for each match-up, with match-up chances that are better than Vegas odds noted with the expected yield return on a dollar.

  • Florida v. Wisconsin 47.4% chance (Vegas odds 1.6 to 1), $1.232
  • Florida v. Kentucky 27.7% chance (Vegas odds 1.2 to 1)
  • Connecticut v. Wisconsin 15.7% chance (Vegas odds 6 to 1), $1.099
  • Connecticut v. Kentucky 9.2% chance (Vegas odds 5 to 1)

NCAA Title Odds

The only significant adjustment to Pomeroy’s ratings for potential championship game match-ups comes from a possible Florida v. Wisconsin game. Here, Wisconsin, a (7,6) team would face Florida a (6,5) team, where (7,6) teams have won 36.2% more than expected against (6,5) teams. This holds true for Wisconsin, as they are 3-1 against (6,5) teams having beaten Virginia, Florida, and St. Louis, with the lone loss to Ohio State. The only other adjustments are the aforementioned missing player adjustments to Kentucky, Florida, and Connecticut. The missing player and match-up adjustment move Wisconsin’s chances of a victory to 45.5% over Florida.

The missing player and match-up adjusted winning percentages produces the following championship probabilities, with favorable noted with the expected return on a dollar:

  • Florida 45.5% (Vegas odds EVEN)
  • Wisconsin 30.8% (Vegas odds 3.5 to 1), $1.386
  • Kentucky 13.0% (Vegas odds 2.75 to 1)
  • Connecticut 10.7% (Vegas odds 7 to 1)

Wisconsin is being undervalued both against Kentucky and in a potential championship game against Florida. The result is them being highly undervalued, especially as national champions. Given a one-time shot Florida is the expected team to win it all, but if the Final Four is played 100 times, you’d make the most money betting “On Wisconsin”.

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