By: Kyle Condrey
Without fail, the madness has hit its peak.
On Friday March 18th, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) beat Michigan State University (MSU) 90-81 in the first round of the NCAA Division 1 Championship advancing to the Round of 32. This was not only a bracket-wrecker and an upset to a large percent of fans but also a statistical improbability that only an ignorant Middle Tennessee hopeful would bet on. In ESPN brackets alone, 61.8% had MSU in the final four and 22.3% of brackets actually picked the Spartans to win it all this year. To add to the humor (and or pain depending on which college fan flag hangs from the front porch) a mere six perfect ESPN brackets remained after the upset.
Other popular bracket hosts had similar numbers to ESPN. 27.3% of Yahoo Tourney Pick ‘Em Players chose Michigan State to win the tournament while 64.6% of CBS Sports brackets had MSU surviving to the final four and a remaining 23.5% believing they would take home the title this year.
Brackets were balled up and thrown away, fans had blank stares and tongue-in-cheek, tears in their eyes or a shred of hope left for their underdog-story-ending at MTSU. Regardless of which category one falls under, the upset was statistically improbable leading to affirmation of doubts when they lost to Syracuse in the Round of 32 on Sunday March 20th. The outcome is not surprising when the statistics from the regular season saw it was only a matter of time before they lost despite their upset against MSU.
MTSU is now the eighth school in bracket history to beat a two-seed as a fifteen-seed; the last time occurring in the FGCU upset over Georgetown in the 2013 season. In the overall record of fifteen-seeds vs. two-seeds 8-128 leaving the fifteen-seeds winning only 6.25% of the time.
Florida Gulf Coast University (FGSU) is the only fifteen-seed team that has ever made it past the Round of 32 defeating San Diego State and then suffering a loss in the Sweet 16 to the three-seed University of Florida.
Middle Tennessee made it out of the first round against MSU with the majority of odds against them while they landed in the marginal 6.25% chance of winning over the two-seed team. Both teams had almost the same field goal percent and rebounds but MTSU turned the ball over less and had a 12.1 higher three point shooting percent over MSU allowing Middle Tennessee to come out ahead.
Comparatively, the game stats show MTSU’s slight win in this specific game but the regular season overall stats would reveal a different outcome to the game. On paper, it is easy to see who the better team is because in the regular season, MSU has more points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game and less points allowed on them than MTSU by all significant integers. Middle Tennesse disregarded the regular season stats for the night and took themselves to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Middle Tennessee game against Syracuse, which resulted in a 75-50 point win over MTSU, should have not had such a large gap between scores when both regular season stats are examined side by side. For each major category of Points, rebounds, assists and points allowed per game, there is only around 2 point differences in averages for both teams for their regular seasons.
However, despite the similarity is regular season stats, MTSU did not perform to the caliber as they did in their fight against the Spartans. With Middle Tennessee scoring an overall 40 points less in this game than the other, with a decrease of 26.2 in Field Goal Percent, a decrease of 24.6 in Three Point Percent, their offense easily struggled during this game. Keeping the same amount of turnovers as their last game and getting seven more rebounds in this round helps reveal the decrease and need of their offense.
After reviewing the stats and looking at many factors it wasn’t hard to decide that Middle Tennessee State very well could have been on their way to the sweet 16 right now making history not just for their team but also for other fifteen-seeds in the future. Those who watched MTSU’s matchup against MSU and then Syracuse, no one had to tell the viewer what was happening, they knew; Middle Tennessee got nervous and lost their healthy lead under the pressure. Winning over a statistically better team and then losing to a team that is but barely statistically better doesn’t make much sense to the fans on the couch who know how each team stacks up against each other. Middle Tennessee has decided to add to the previous record of 0-4 matchups between fifteen-seeds and 10-seeds leaving the 15-seed to enter into an 0-5 record for the ones who came before to have a chance to change future stats and to be the first fifteen-seed to make it past the sweet sixteen and have a real shot at the championship.