We all know the NCAA Tournament to decide the men’s basketball title was canceled due to COVID-19, and we also know there was a very short list of teams with a legitimate shot to win it all.
It’s good, then, to see simulations run by the mathematical experts at fivethirtyeight.com predict that two of these short-listed schools would have met in the finals tonight—with the school that doesn’t cheat winning it all, hypothetically.
(For what it’s worth, The Athletic also has the Kansas Jayhawks and the Michigan State Spartans meeting in the finals, although that site has yet to publish its projected winner, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Spartans and the Florida State Seminoles in his final, with the winner yet to be named.)
As we pointed out last spring when predicting the 2019 tournament, there is a mathematical pattern for determining a champion. Both the Jayhawks and the Spartans fit that pattern, so those are “safe” predictions—but they are also probable and realistic predictions.
Sure, a talented team with an elite offense or defense could make a run a win it all like the 2014 Connecticut Huskies did, but that is a long shot still, at best. We all know Texas Tech almost pulled it off in 2019 as well.
Florida State, with its 15th-ranked defensive efficiency, also fits that mold, so Lunardi is playing both the favorite and the outlier odds at the same time.
The fivethirtyeight.com simulation had Maryland and San Diego State reaching the Final Four: The Terps would have been a borderline favorite—as we noted—while the Aztecs were in that short-listed group of six teams with the best shots to win it all already.
The experts are realistic about their predictions for the March Madness that never was—and you always should be, too. Keep this in mind next year when you fill out your brackets.