Why the Final Four Shouldn’t Be Such a Shock


The NCAA Tournament is always full of surprises, and this year has been no exception. However, even with two No. 1 seeds and one No. 3 seed in the Final Four, this round of March Madness has somehow proven to be one of the most unpredictable.

Per ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only 0.003 percent of submissions correctly guessed the  Final Four. Last year, three times that fraction of brackets were picked correctly even though there was a No. 10 seed (Syracuse) crashing the party.

Year Seeds % Correct
2017 (1) North Carolina, (1) Gonzaga, (3) Oregon, (7) South Carolina 0.003%
2016 (1) North Carolina, (2) Villanova, (2) Oklahoma, (10) Syracuse 0.009%
2015 (1) Kentucky, (1) Wisconsin, (1) Duke, (7) Michigan State 1.360%
2014 (1) Florida, (2) Wisconsin, (7) Connecticut, (8) Kentucky 0.006%
2013 (1) Louisville, (4) Michigan, (4) Syracuse, (9) Wichita State 0%
2012 (1) Kentucky, (2) Ohio State, (2) Kansas, (4) Louisville 0.220%
2011 (3) Connecticut, (4) Kentucky, (8) Butler, (11) VCU 0%

In 2014, there was a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed in the Final Four, and 0.006 percent (double this year’s share) of people perfected their selections. Why is this combination such a surprise?

The answer is all in the brand. As of late, the two years that produced zero flawless Final Four predictions were the two years that included mid-majors (Wichita State in 2013, Butler in 2011).  Few had even heard of Wichita State (no, Wichita is still not a state) much less picked them to make that sort of run – remember, the Shockers’ 34-0 regular season wasn’t until the year after they made the Final Four. And that 2013 roster wound up having three future NBA players.

Butler was a slightly different story. The Bulldogs had already made it to the national championship game in 2010 and headed into the 2011 tourney having won nine straight. Yet Brad Stevens’ team wasn’t even favored to make it past Old Dominion in the first round, let alone be a member of the Final Four. Hardly a household name to fans then, even if it’s become one since.

Still, these projections somewhat made sense on paper, given that Wichita State and Butler both would have to beat a No. 1 seed to even make the Sweet 16. Going into this year’s tournament, these were the chances of each remaining team making it to the Final Four, according to FiveThirtyEight:

Team % Chance
Gonzaga (1) 41.5%
North Carolina (1) 29.9%
Oregon (3) 6.6%
South Carolina (7) 1.1%

Gonzaga had the highest probability in the entire tournament pool of making it to the Final Four, yet just 37 percent of brackets put them there.

Back to brand. Especially when money is on the line, people are most comfortable choosing teams that have an established name. In other words, people are most comfortable choosing teams that have high seedings, flashy players, and measurable amounts of experience, regardless of anything else that may be relevant.

North Carolina checks all the criteria on that list. It leads the NCAA in Final Four appearances (20) and ranks second in total tournament appearances (48). Think about it. UNC has made it to the Final Four in over 40 percent of its total tournament trips. So, not only did the Tar Heels enter as a No. 1 seed, but one could say that, well … they’ve been here before. Throw in likely lottery pick Justin Jackson, who has averaged 19.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists through the Elite Eight, and it’s no surprise that 45 percent of brackets picked UNC to make it this far.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has been in the Big Dance 20 times and has never played in a single Final Four game. But they received a No. 1 seed for a reason. The Zags suffered just one loss in the regular season, posting a points per game differential of plus-23.4 – the best in Division I since Duke’s 1998-99 juggernaut that featured five lottery picks. The next best this season was Wichita State at 19.6.

Point differential matters here. To win 30-plus games in a season is no easy task, but to win them by that much is truly historic. Gonzaga’s schedule was no cakewalk, either, containing fellow NCAA Tournament teams in Iowa State, Florida, Arizona and Saint Mary’s (three times). Still, people chose brand, so more trust was put into teams like Duke (40%), Arizona (45%), Villanova (48%), and Kansas (58%, the most commonly selected Final Four team via CBS).

Just 9 percent of brackets placed Oregon in their Final Four, compared to 27 percent in favor of fellow-No. 3-seed UCLA despite the Ducks finishing ahead of the Bruins in the Pac-12. Part of that could have had to do with the season-ending injury to big man Chris Boucher, but there are perhaps two bigger reasons. One, UCLA has 48 tournament appearances to Oregon’s 15, including 18 Final Fours – all of which came well after the Ducks’ lone previous trip, in 1939. And second, Lonzo Ball.

We can’t forget South Carolina, which is easily the biggest reason for such bracket mayhem. Sure, they’re a No. 7 seed, they have zero Final Four experience and don’t have a single player who’s a surefire first-round pick. Sure, they had a one percent chance of making it to the Final Four. Sure, just 0.2 percent of nearly 19 million people picked them to make it this far. But should we be this surprised that they did?

The Gamecocks had regular-season wins over Michigan, Syracuse and Florida and has a top-10 KenPom defense that’s one of the most aggressive in the country. They have the SEC player of the year in Sindarius Thornwell. And they have a coach with this perspective (if you have the time, listen to the full 8-minute interview – it’s worth your while).

Maybe it’s not such a surprise. Maybe it’s time that “brand” gets re-branded.

Photos By: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel/Young Kwak/Julio Cortez/Gerry Broome

Impact Percentage: A New NBA Fingerprint


No two teams in the NBA are alike when it comes to the mixture of player tendencies, lineup combinations and styles of play. One metric that tells a story of player involvement (and furthermore, can serve as a team’s fingerprint) is usage percentage. This estimates the portion of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. In other words, it shows us how often a player ends his team’s possessions. Players like Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeMar DeRozan currently lead the league in usage percentage.

Using our revolutionary STATS SportVU data, we have recently developed an improvement upon traditional usage percentage. Now, not only can we tell how frequently a player terminates a possession (with a FGA, FTA, or Turnover), but we can also quantify how often they impact a possession (with a drive, a ball screen, an isolation or a post up). We’ve appropriately named this value impact percentage.

Why is this valuable? Consider players like Goran Dragic and Mike Conley, who rank 38th and 49th, respectively, in usage. Although a glance at these numbers might persuade one to think that these two aren’t chief possession-influencers, they are both among the top 10 in the league in impact percentage.

This new statistic was mentioned in ESPN the Magazine’s newest analytics issue, which hit the stands on March 17. Today, we are going to use it to analyze Monday’s matchup between Oklahoma City and Golden State.

As mentioned earlier, Russell Westbrook leads the NBA in usage percentage – but he also sits at the top of the leaderboard in impact percentage. When you look at OKC exclusively, no one comes close to the amount of impact that Westbrook has on their possessions.


Usage plays a part here, but when you break down OKC’s SportVU plays – drives, isolations, post ups, and ball screens – it’s evident that these are where the bulk of Westbrook’s impact lies. Westbrook accounts for over 51 impactful plays per game on average. The next closest Thunder player is Victor Oladipo at 16.


Let’s talk about variability. In statistics, standard deviation measures how spread out a distribution is. A low standard deviation tells us that most of the numbers in a sample are close to the sample’s average – in other words, there isn’t much spread. A high standard deviation tells us that the numbers are more scattered. Unsurprisingly, due to Westbrook’s outlandish numbers, OKC has a very high standard deviation when considering impact percentage.

The Thunder’s standard deviation comes to a whopping 15 percent. In comparison, Golden State, before Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain on February 28th, had a standard deviation of 8 percent.


The biggest and most obvious takeaway here is that these are two completely diverse teams when it comes to how the ball is facilitated, and further, who the offense revolves around. Yet, a deeper dive into the Warriors’ Impact numbers reveals that they’ve had to adjust their strategy in KD’s recent absence.


Steph Curry’s impact percentage has increased from an already team-leading 49 percent to an even higher 55 percent while Klay Thompson’s has shot from 31 to 37. This is all expected. What’s more compelling, though, is how a guy like Ian Clark is doing exponentially more with his limited minutes.

In his first eight games* since Durant’s injury, Clark has nearly doubled his ball screen usage (2.6 to 4.8 per game) and increased his drives (1.2 to 1.9 per game). On top of that, his minutes slightly decreased – even with him playing 34 minutes March 11 against the Spurs as Steve Kerr rested all his stars.

It’s important to mention that impact percentage is not necessarily a reflection of efficiency. Just because a player is influencing his on-court possessions doesn’t mean that he’s influencing them positively. It’s no secret that the Warriors are struggling to fill Durant’s shoes, especially when it comes to productivity – but it does appear as if guys are at least stepping up to the challenge and getting involved.

With all of this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how OKC handles a Golden State team that finally seems to be adjusting to Durant’s absence.

*all numbers are as of 3/17/17

Photo By: AP Photo/Alonzo Adams
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

STATS March Madness 2017 Primer



The Favorite: Villanova (Seed: 1, Final 4 Probability: 29.5%)

Last years’ champs have a pretty tough road ahead of them in the East bracket but obviously have the best chance at advancing to the Final 4 out of the group. Wisconsin in the 2nd round is clearly a bump in the hypothetical road – Wisconsin is STATS #21 team and easily the best 8 seed. We rank Villanova as the #1 team in the nation, though, and we expect them to pass that early test.

Darkhorse:  SMU (Seed: 6, Final 4 Probability: 7.2%)

SMU is a team that can shake up the region. The AAC’s best team is led by the conference’s player of the year, Semi Ojeleye (19.9 ppg on 49.1% FG), and features several other versatile and productive players. The Mustangs are a tougher test for Baylor, Duke, and Villanova (if they happen to make it that far) than people realize. One of those teams could very well be upset, too, which would open up an easier road for SMU to reach the Final 4. There’s a 7.2% chance of that happening – the Elite 8 is a more realistic ceiling.

Bracket Buster: Baylor (Seed: 3, Final 4 Probability: 9.6%)

It’s possible that too many people will have the Bears (who were ranked #1 In the AP Poll at one point this season) going a bit too far. If they get past the dangerous New Mexico State and into the Round of 32, they face a tough path through SMU and potentially Duke, which caps their upside.

Cinderella Team: New Mexico State (Seed: 14, Final 4 Probability: 0.0%)

The top teams in this region are so good that it’s tough to identify any Cinderella candidates. Instead of looking for a Final 4 contender, we look for a team that can a game or 2, and of all the top teams, Baylor is the most vulnerable. New Mexico State beat the only major conference team it faced this year (Arizona State), and they very well could keep it close against a Baylor team that lost to Yale in the 1st round last year. We give them a 13.1% chance of winning that game – very nice for a 14 seed.


The Favorite: Gonzaga (Seed: 1, Final 4 Probability: 35.4%)

This could be the year the Zags break through and win a National Championship. Being a #1 seed helps set up an easier path for them, but they will surely be tested as soon as the Sweet 16 against West Virginia (our highest ranked 4 seed). If you don’t think Gonzaga can get it done, look at 2 seed Arizona, who have a 23.4% chance of making it out of the region.

Darkhorse: West Virginia (Seed: 4, Final 4 Probability: 16.4%)

They can certainly knock Gonzaga off in what will be closer to a coin flip matchup than people realize. We see the Mountaineers as a top 10 team, with impressive wins over Virginia, Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State this season. Potential 2nd round opponent Notre Dame can certainly beat anybody (as proven by wins over Florida State and Virginia), but we still see them as one of the weaker 5 seeds, looking at their overall body of work.

Bracket Buster: Gonzaga

If there were a #1 seed to strategically fade this year it might just be Gonzaga. Unexpected and crazy things will happen this year, just as they do every year. Don’t be surprised if they’re knocked out in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, as their bracket is stacked with one of the toughest 2/3/4 trios, not to mention 7-seed Saint Mary’s, who beat Gonzaga twice last season. This may just be the quadrant of the bracket that gets flipped on its head.

Cinderella Team: Florida Gulf Coast (Seed: 14, Final 4 Probability: 0.0%)

Dunk City has one thing going for them that no other 14 seeds do: a relatively neutral 1st round location. That’s the silver lining with drawing Florida State, a contender ripe with NBA talent, as the game will be played in Orlando, just about a 3 hour drive from campus. If FGCU does win that game – and we think they have a 13.1% chance to do so – they’ll have some home court advantage against the winner of the underwhelming Xavier/Maryland matchup. These guys could very plausibly make another run to the Sweet 16.


The Favorite: North Carolina (Seed: 1, Final 4 Probability: 35.3%)

They’re not only the clear favorite to win the South Region but also a sneaky pick to win it all this year. Why is it sneaky? They aren’t getting as much attention as conference tournament winners, yet we see them as the mathematical favorites. The Tar Heels have a high floor, with the easiest path to the elite 8 – only the bottom half of their region is stacked, meaning they will only have to just face just one top team on its way to the Final 4.

Darkhorse: Wichita State (Seed: 10, Final 4 Probability: 4.2%)

No double digit seed has a better chance of making a run than the Shockers. STATS’ #20 team in the nation should be a much higher seed, and they’re heavy favorites (72.3%) in their 1st round matchup against Dayton. They started slow this year after losing Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker to the NBA, but then they steamrolled through the Missouri Valley Conference, winning their final 15 games by an average of 22.3 points. The fact they still have decent Final 4 odds despite drawing (potentially) Kentucky, UCLA, and UNC, is a testament to how good this 10 seed is.

Bracket Buster: Kentucky (Seed: 2, Final 4 Probability: 24.7%)

Of course we see them as title contenders, and if they get to the elite 8, they’re a virtual coin toss against UNC. This is about value and perception, though – people may just automatically slot them into the Elite 8 simply because they are the #2 seed, which is a very risky proposition. They may have to face the best #10 seed in tourney history in Wichita State in the Round of 32. After that, they would likely have to face UCLA (another team much better than their #3 seed indicates). They may be a good team to pick to lose early, simply considering their tough path.

Cinderella Team: Middle Tennessee State (Seed: 12, Final 4 Probability: 0.9%)

It’s not often that a 12-seed has anywhere near a 1% chance of making the final 4, but MTSU isn’t your average 12 – they are more like a 10 seed, as STATS’ #41 team in the tournament. It also helps that their 5-seed opponent is relatively weak, with Minnesota ranking as STATS’ #31 team. It all adds up to a very winnable game – MTSU has a 44.6% chance of advancing. Beware, though – the public may be all over the Conference USA champs and winners of 20 of their last 21, but they’re still more likely than not to lose in the 1st round, so Minnesota actually poses the better value.

Mid West

The Favorite: Kansas (Seed: 1, Final 4 Probability: 35.9%)

The Jayhawks just might have the toughest path to the Final 4 of all the #1 seeds. Having said that, they are still the clear favorites and the best bet to come out of the Region on top. Don’t be overly turned off by their Big 12 tourney loss to TCU, as they were missing star freshman and future top 5 pick Josh Jackson for that one, due to suspension.

Darkhorse: Oklahoma State (Seed: 10, Final 4 Probability: 2.7%)

The top 3 seeds here are so good, and they all have 15%+ probabilities of making it to the Final 4. We like the value Oklahoma State presents, though, as the public will be all over their opponent, Big 10 tourney champs Michigan. Michigan is a dangerous 7 seed capable of winning at least a couple games, but Oklahoma State is a good team in its own right, and we see that game as a virtual toss-up. After losing their first 6 Big 12 games, they won 10 of their next 14 games overall, including wins over West Virginia and TCU (twice). The backcourt trio of Jawun Evans (19.0 ppg), Jeffrey Carroll (17.4 ppg), and Phil Forte III (13.3 ppg), are all capable of lighting it up, and they could overwhelm Michigan in the 1st round and break Louisville’s press in the 2nd round.

Bracket Buster: Louisville (Seed: 2, Final 4 Probability: 21.0%)

After their cupcake first round matchup – the Cardinals are likely to face stiff tests the rest of the way. Michigan is one of the best 7 seeds, Oklahoma State is one of the best 10 seeds, and Oregon is one of the best 3 seeds. This is likely an ideal #2 team to short in order to try to get ahead of the field, in case they can’t even reach the Sweet 16. Of all 2-seeds, we give them the lowest probability of reaching the Final 4.

Cinderella Team: Vermont (Seed: 13, Final 4 Probability: 0.2%)

We swear this one all comes down to the numbers and is not influenced by Vermont’s magical win over 4-seed Syracuse in 2005 (“T.J. Sorrentine hit that one from the PARKING LOT!” –Gus Johnson). This version of Vermont is also very good, coming in with the nation’s longest winning streak (21 games). They’re deep and balanced (10 players who average at least 10 minutes; 7 players who average at least 6 points), and they hung in there against Butler in December, losing by 12. No team seeded 13 or higher has a better chance of winning a game than Vermont’s 22.0%.

STATS and Budweiser Light Up SXSW


STATS and Budweiser brought the game changing viewing experience to SXSW where more than 300 people watched the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime and the Tampa Bay Lightning win 3-2 against the Florida Panthers. The 300 Goal-Synced Glasses lit up 10 times during the games creating an exciting atmosphere for the SXSW crowd.


Budweiser’s Goal-Synced Glasses, powered by STATS, allow hockey fans to celebrate their favorite NHL team in their home the same way they would in stadium when a goal is scored. Once a user pairs their Goal-Synced Glass to their mobile app, their glass lights up every time a goal is scored. The innovative Goal-Synced Glasses create a way for fans to celebrate in the moment.

“Working with STATS has allowed us to provide the data to power an idea that truly changes the game for hockey fans. The Goal-Synched Glass was designed to enhance the viewing experience for fans – while helping us sell more Budweiser,” said Andrew Oosterhuis, Budweiser Canada’s Director of Marketing. “The program has been overwhelmingly successful with over 30k daily users and thousands of incremental cases of Budweiser sold.”

A part of Budweiser’s Red Light campaign in Canada, the Goal-Synced Glasses have been the most successful sports brand activation in Canada. With more than 30,000 daily users and 75,000 glasses purchased, NHL fans in Canada have spent more than $8 million on Red Lights.

4 ways to engage sports fans with your brand

No matter the technology or the format, fans are looking for new and exciting ways to engage with their favorite sports. Brands can capitalize on this opportunity by creating different ways for fans to use the brand as an avenue to get closer to sports. Fans may not want to interact directly with a company, but they will if the company can bring them closer to something they are passionate about.


Harnessing the Madness!


STATS, the global leader in sports intelligence, helps brands find the winning edge in fan engagement. STATS developed fan engagement solutions for Men’s College Basketball Championship Tournament for several of STATS partners, including Allstate and theScore. Both games have tipped-off for the 2017 tournament to engage all college basketball fans.

The Allstate Bracket Predictor gives every college basketball fan the opportunity to harness powerful predictive analytics from STATS and beat their friends, family and coworkers in their favorite NCAA tournament bracket games by using data science. With historical/past years’ accuracy exceeding 70 percent, the Allstate Bracket Predictor utilizes advanced predictive analytics from STATS, allowing users to select any two teams in the tournament and analyze the probability of a victory in a head-to-head matchup.

theScore $100K Team Tourney Challenge, developed in partnership with STATS, delivers the same bracket-picking fun as other contests, but allows friends to team-up and take on other groups of fans. At the end of the 63-game tournament, the group of friends with the highest average score walks away with $100K, while there is also a $25K prize for the best overall individual bracket from the contest. The challenge is only available on theScore mobile app creating a mobile-first sports experience for the connected fans.

Innovative activations such as these are a result of STATS investment in predictive analytics, data science, and customizable digital solutions for brands to create new shared experiences that connect brands with consumers’ most authentic and personal passions – sports.

Previewing STATS Interactive Sports Analytics Panel at SXSW


STATS, the global leader in sports intelligence and the pioneer of live sports data, will participate in the SXSW panel titled Interactive Sports Analytics: Empowering Domain Experts in Austin on Saturday, March 11 at 12:30 pm.

Director of Data Science Dr. Patrick Lucey will represent STATS in the panel discussion about the current state and future of sports analytics and data. Patrick will be joined on the panel by Kirk Goldsberry, VP of Strategic Research for the San Antonio Spurs, and Nick Ross, CIO of Genius Sports Group.

Together the panelists will discuss the concept of “interactive sports analytics” and how this can be used across different domains. In the era of big data, there is so much data to process the key to unlocking the value in sports data isn’t developing new metrics, but developing new technology which will enable users and consumers to interact directly with the data. This shift will empower them to find their own patterns and stories, which allows them consume the game in whatever form they see fit.

This is the second year in a row that STATS participated in a SXSW panel. Last year STATS Chief Technology Officer Darryl Lewis presented alongside Joe Procopio, Chief Product Officer at Automated Insights, on the Automated Future of Sports Analysis.