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NCAA Tournament | Message Board | Logos & Mascots

By Shawn Siegel

March 20th, 2006


2006 NCAA Tournament: Nothing Mad About It


Shortsighted commentators like Billy Packer, Jim Nantz, and Dick Vitale would have you believe that this is an absolutely crazy March full of unexpected upsets and Cinderella runs.  Of course, they think this because their understanding of the college basketball landscape is misguided at best and foolish at worst.

A simple look at the reality of the college basketball pecking order shows that most of these so-called upsets are really not surprising.  Despite what the seeding says, the higher ranked teams are winning just about every game.  The key though is which ranking you use.  Not the committee’s subjective seeding, nor the polls voted on by coaches who don’t watch games, nor the ones voted on by the same misguided big-city media members who have the same mindset as Packer, Nantz, and Vitale, and not even the popular computer rankings (like the overall RPI) that take into account in-conference performance that predicts absolutely nothing.


It is Non-league rating that consistently impresses in its ability to predict the outcome of tournament games.


A simple glance at non-league rankings shows that George Mason SHOULD have beaten both UNC & Michigan State, Bradley SHOULD have been Kansas, and Texas A&M SHOULD have beaten Syracuse.  In fact, there have been only 5 upsets in the entire tournament so far, and those upsets were not surprising at all based on non-league rankings.


In the analysis below, I use an average of a team’s Non-League RPI ( & Non-League Power Ranking ( and use that as a team’s overall Non-League Ranking (NLR). For example, Duke, which ranks 1 and 3 respectively in NL-RPI and NL-Power Rankings has an average rating of 2 (the best of any team in the country), while Southern ranked 193 and 226 has a rating of 209.5.  The teams are then ordered from 1 (Duke) through 65 (Hampton) based on their NLR.  (The complete NLR is included below.)


Many teams fall just where you expect them in the NLR: Duke is 1, Memphis is 2, while Southern is 64 and #65 Hampton turns out to be by far the worst team in the tourney.  However, many teams good in the polls and in public perception, actually have quite bad NLR’s.  It turns out Kansas was only the 53rd best team in the field, the 2nd worst at-large team (just barely ahead of 55th ranked California), while Iowa was 40th.


So the overall question is: Despite the notion that this has been a wild tournament, how many games really have been upsets?


Amazingly, the NLR predicted the outcome of the games in 42 of the 48 games so far, meaning that there have been just 6 upsets in the entire tournament.  Just 3 in out of 36 first round, and 3 out of 16 in the second.  In fact, only 2 of the upsets were really noteworthy according to the NLR. #36 Montana over #21 Nevads is a difference of 15 spots, and the biggest one was #24 Georgetown over #5 Ohio State (19 spots).


Here are the 6 upsets. I’ve divided the field of 65 into seeds using a strict ordering of the NLR.


Only 3 First Round Upsets:

Montana over Nevada - 9 seed over 6 seed

Georgetown over Northern Iowa – 6 seed over 4 seed

Northwestern State over Iowa – 12 over 10


Only 3 Second Round Upsets:

Bradley over Pitt – 5 over 2

WSU over Tennessee – 5 over 4

Georgetown 6 over 2


As you see, even the six upsets that did occur are not that big of a deal as they were all between teams that the NLR seeds within 4 levels of each other.  Iowa, for example, despite being given a 3 seed is ranked just 40th in the field according to the NLR, while Northwestern State is 47th.  Thus the Demons win was just a mild upset.


The only real Cinderella team in the tournament, who has beaten two higher ranked teams is Georgetown (wins over UNI and Ohio State).


The Field According to the Non-League Ranking

Rank-Seed Team Rating


1-1 Duke 2

2-1 Memphis 4.5

3(t)-1 Villanova 5

3(t)-1 Washington 5

5-2 OSU 5.5

6-2 UCONN 8.5

7-2 Florida 9.5

8(t)-2 Pittsburgh 11

8(t)-3 Gonzaga 11

10-3 UCLA 12.5

11(t)-3 Illinois 14.5

11(t)-3 Texas 14.5

13-4 Arizona 15

14-4 Northern Iowa 15

15-4 Tennessee 22

16-4 George Mason 24

17-5 Bradley 27.5

18-5 BC 28

19-5 Bucknell 28

20-5 Wichita St 28

21-6 Nevada 30

22-6 Kentucky 31.5

23-6 Michigan St 32.5

24-6 Georgetown 34

25-7 Indiana 37.5

26-7 NC State 38

27-7 Xavier 38

28-7 LSU 38.5

29-8 Texas A&M 40

30-8 UNC 41

31-8 Syracuse 43.5

32-8 UWM 45.5

33-9 GW 50.5

34-9 Wisconsin 50.5

35-9 Utah State 50.5

36-9 Montana 51

37-10 Iona 53

38-10 Seton Hall 55.5

39-10 Air Force 56

40-10 Iowa 58.5

41-11 Arkansas 70

42-11 West Virginia 72.5

43-11 Oklahoma 78

44-11 UAB 79

45-12 Winthrop 80.5

46-12 Alabama 83.5

47-12 NW State 84

48-12 SIU 88

49-13 Marquette 88

50-13 So Alabama 100.5

51-13 UNCW 101.5

52-13 Davidson 103.5

53-14 Kansas 109

54-14 Murray St 115.5           

55-14 California 118

56-14 Penn 118.5

57-15 Pacific 122.5

58-15 Kent State 145

59-15 Oral Roberts 149

60-15 Monmouth 161

61-16 Albany 166

62-16 Belmont 167

63-16 San Diego St 185

64-16 Southern 209.5

65-17 Hampton 319.5


Since the NLR has done such a great job so far predicting the tournament’s outcome, what should we expect in the coming rounds?


Duke and Texas should both win their Sweet Sixteen games to meet in the Elite Eight.  Memphis should beat Bradley by a decent amount, while Gonzaga/UCLA is basically a pick’em with the Zags holding a very slight edge.  According to the NLR, Gonzaga is tied with Pitt in 8th, while UCLA is 10th.


In the bottom of the bracket, UW is expected to just edge UCONN, but again these two have very similar rankings so a UCONN win would not really be an upset.  UW is the 4th ranked team, while UCONN is 6th.  UW/UCONN features by far the highest ranked NLR teams, and the quality is more worthy of the Elite Eight.  In the other Washington, DC game, George Mason is predicted to just barely edge WSU, though these two teams are also ranked very similarly.  Both Villanova and Florida are expected to win their games.


The Final Four according to the NLR will shape up as Duke, Memphis, Washington, and Villanova.  Unfortunately for Memphis, despite being the 2nd best team, they will face #1 Duke in the semifinals and not the National Championship game.  Villanova and Washington are actually tied in 3rd place, so there’s no way one can be chosen of the other.  Regardless of whether either Washington or Villanova wins, Duke is expected to win it all.


Of course, as the teams get whittled down and only the very cream of the crop remains, the NLR should be expected to be less and less effective.  That is because the difference in quality between competing teams shrinks.  Ie, #16 George Mason beating #30 ranked UNC is more likely to occur than #1 Duke beating #2 Memphis.


All in all, the point of this article is to show how the tournament has been rather in tame in reality.  Yes, there have been some awesome finishes, but the results have not been very surprising despite what the talking heads tell you. Taking the subjective power conference preference of many analysts away, the higher ranked team has most often won games in this year’s tournament.



Bubble Note:

You may be wondering what teams according to the NLR deserved to be in the field.  According to the NLR, the last seven teams in the field were Oklahoma, UAB, Alabama, Marquette, SIU, Kansas, and California. Those seven teams combined for just 1 win, and that’s only because Alabama got lucky to face one of the only 4 worse at-large teams in the field. 


The 7 teams that should have gotten in (or at least would have fared better than the 7 above) are Missouri State (NLR of 8, the 6th best of any team in the country!), Michigan (20.5), Louisville (24.5), St Joseph’s (25.5), Houston (30.5), Cincinnati (32), and Creighton (33).  Just missing out are Hofstra (42), Minnesota (42.5), Clemson (46), FSU (47.5), and DePaul (48), though all of those rank higher than many teams that actually made the field.


Final Note:

The ratings used here are from AFTER the completion of the first round, as there was not enough time to get archived Non-league ratings in time to get this article online.  This means that the numbers may be slightly tilted more in "my" favor now then they were before the first round outcomes occurred.  The best example of this is Texas A&M who is ranked 2 spots ahead of Syracuse with a rating difference of 1.5.  This ranking includes Texas A&M's win over Syracuse so I speculate prior to that game Syracuse probably had a slightly higher rating than the Aggies.  Thus Texas A&M's win may very well have been a very slight upset between closely ranked teams.  However that one example seems to be the only case where this matters.


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