Despite a Close First Half, Gonzaga’s Win Probability Barely Changed in Their Round of 64 Game
If you just look at the final box score, it appears as though the 1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs coasted in their Round of 64 matchup against the 16-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits. But if you watched the game from start to finish, it wasn't exactly that easy.
Being from a mid-major conference, it'd be easy to write the Zags off as the worst of the four 1 seeds in the big dance. But according to our nERD metric -- which tells us the number of points we would expect a team to win by against an average team on a neutral court -- Gonzaga isn't only the best 1 seed in the bracket, but they're the best overall team in the nation.
As such, we expected the Bulldogs, sporting a nERD of 20.47 heading into the tournament, to best the Jackrabbits (-1.07) by a sizable margin. To be precise, we gave them a 97.52% chance of avoiding the wrong side of history.
But, once again, Gonzaga got out to a sluggish start.
South Dakota State jumped out to an 8-2 lead thanks to shooting 3 of 4 from the field. It was a welcome sight for the Jackrabbit faithful, but their win probability on numberLive within the first three minutes only moved up to 6.02% from 2.28%.
Even as the game progressed, South Dakota State held a 22-19 advantage with less than three minutes left in the first half. That's when Twitter started what turned out to be a premature upset alert.
Gonzaga losing this game would be the most Gonzaga thing ever #marchmadness #NCAATournament
— Steven Dowling (@Steevzy) March 16, 2017
Gonzaga is really good - at getting upset early
— Dan Schultz (@DSchultz89) March 16, 2017
While the people were reacting to what was on the screen in front of them, our numbers weren't budging -- the Jackrabbits' win probability peaked at just 6.68%. Why? Well, because Gonzaga is really good.
The Bulldogs proved that by scoring seven straight points to secure a 26-22 lead and a win probability of 97.4% heading into the locker room at the half.
This is when things started to get out of hand for South Dakota State. With 15:43 left in the second half, Gonzaga mounted a 40-28 lead and pushed their win probability all the way up to 99.3%.
The Jackrabbits made a couple small runs after that, but Gonzaga mostly coasted the rest of the way. Their probability was at or above 99% for the last 12 minutes of the contest, with their lowest mark in the second half being 97.18%. After all was said and done, head coach Mark Few and his squad were 66-46 winners despite shooting just 39.7% from the field.
We can chalk this up to nothing more than a slow start. Unlike most tournament teams, Gonzaga had not played in over a week, so this could've been expected.
In other words, if you were at all worried about the Zags getting upset in the Round of 64, you shouldn't have been. They had this game in the back from the tip to the final buzzer.