Ranking the 2017 NCAA Tournament's Regions, Presented By The Belko Experiment

Presented By The Belko Experiment -- In Theaters March 17

There's a lot that goes into which NCAA Tournament region is the hardest of the four. Which teams are the best of their respective seed line? Which grouping has the best players? Which ones include the most likely Cinderella squads?

Well, with what can be agreed on as a poor implementation of the "S-curve" by the Selection Committee, it has become even harder to put a thumb on which 1 seed heads the Tournament's single-best region.

That's why we use nERD, which is a numberFire metric that tells us how many points we would expect a team to win by against an average team on a neutral court. As such, it has also made the process of evaluating regions, from top to bottom, much easier.

We can average the nERD of all 16 teams in the region and rank them by that average. When dealing with a First Four game, we average the nERD of the two teams in order to obtain a single number for the 11 or 16 seed.

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So, according to strength of region, which teams came out on the raw end of the deal? How about the ones who should be thankful for a lucky draw? Let's find out.

Ranking the Regions

By overall average nERD, here's how the four regions rank against one another.

Region 1 Seed Avg. nERD
East Villanova 11.58
Midwest Kansas 11.16
South North Carolina 10.70
West Gonzaga 10.46

The East, home to the 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats, has a decent advantage over the other three NCAA Tournament regions. Meanwhile, the West, headed up by the Gonzaga Bulldogs, brings up the rear at over one nERD worse than the top region.

This alone doesn't tell us all that much, though. We can't tell whether the East is solid all-around or just top-heavy. The same goes for the other three parts of the bracket, but we can break down each region by seed to better understand the composition of their 16 teams.

Region All Seeds 1-4 Seeds 5-8 Seeds 9-12 Seeds 13-16
East 11.58 18.09 15.02 10.08 3.13
Midwest 11.16 17.43 14.01 11.34 1.87
South 10.70 17.55 12.34 12.11 0.81
West 10.46 17.55 12.50 9.77 2.01

It's true that the East is the best region, from Villanova all the way down.

Outside of seeds 9 through 12, the region is first in all other sub-segments, including seeds 13 through 16, where East Tennessee State and Troy represent the best seeds of their respective lines. Needless to say, the Wildcats are going to have a tough road as the Committee's overall top seed.

The Midwest comes in a relatively close second on the back of decent numbers across the board. It contains the worst 1 through 4 seeds, but ranks second, second and third in the remaining three sub-groups, respectively. The Kansas Jayhawks are the worst 1 seed, by our algorithms, and they will be challenged with sleeper teams like Oklahoma State and Rhode Island. If they make it through to the Elite Eight, they could be forced to reckon with Louisville, our second-best 2 seed.

A Clear Divide

Here's where we see a little bit of a dropoff from the Midwest to the South and West regions.

Surprisingly, the South is rather soft. It boasts Kentucky, the Tournament's best 2 seed and a team our numbers suggest is better than their region's 1 seed, North Carolina. It also consists of the 10-seeded Wichita State Shockers, who were one of the most underseeded teams ever -- they're the 10th-best team in the nation, according to nERD.

While these teams boost the muscles of the South, teams like Butler, Minnesota, Dayton and Seton Hall bring the region down since they're the worst teams on their individual seed lines.

As previously mentioned, Gonzaga has the easiest way to the Final Four of any 1 seed. The West's 9 through 12 seeds have a lot to do with that, ranking last of the four regions. There's also a lot to be desired at the top, though -- nERD tells us the Arizona Wildcats and Florida State Seminoles are the worst 2 and 3 seeds in the Tournament.

In fact, as a 4 seed, the West Virginia Mountaineers, sporting a nERD of 18.64, are better than the Wildcats and Seminoles. They will be the stiffest challenge for a Bulldogs team looking to capitalize on their regional advantage.

Check out the trailer for the human deathmatch bracket challenge below and our FanDuel bracket optimizer sponsored by Belko