March Madness: Ranking the Tournament's Regions, Presented by SeatGeek
The brackets have been released, so it is time to crunch the numbers and break it all down. One of the first things anybody will notice when the field of 68 is announced is how easy or hard each region appears to be.
As is the case every year, despite the committee's best efforts, not all the regions were created equal. Whether it be due to seeding or aligning for geography, one region may get loaded while another can look like a cakewalk.
Using the average nERD -- an in-house metric which is the number of points a team is expected to beat an average team by on a neutral floor -- of the teams in each region, here is a ranking of the tournament's four regions.
4 -- West Region
Average nERD: 8.84
The West Region ranks as our weakest in this year's tournament. The main reason that jumps out immediately is the relatively poor nERD for the 1 seed Xavier. The Musketeers rank 11th in nERD and are actually the third-best team in their own region behind 2 seed North Carolina and 4 seed Gonzaga. While the Tar Heels are the best team in the bracket, according to nERD, they rank as the third strongest 2 seed in the field and the 3 seed Michigan is the worst-ranked 3 seed.
Outside of having the weakest group of top-four seeds, they also have the lowest rated teams in their 9 through 12 seeds as well as 13 through 16 when compared to the rest of the field.
3 -- East Region
Average nERD: 9.18
While the East is home to nERD's highest-rated team -- the Villanova Wildcats -- it comes in as our third-rated region. Villanova does rank as the strongest 1 seed by a good margin, but the 2, 3, and 4 seeds all rate at least 2 points lower in nERD compared to the best team on their seed line.
To walk that point back a little bit, Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State are either the second- or third-best team on their seed line, and the 5 seed -- West Virginia -- is our highest-rated 5 seed. The top four seeds are the second-strongest group in the field, and the 5 through 8 seeds are the strongest, but what brings this region's ranking back down is the weakness of the bottom teams in the bracket.
2 -- South Region
Average nERD: 9.47
The South Region comes in as the second-strongest region in the tournament this year -- led by the Virginia Cavaliers, the top overall seed. Virginia is the second-best team in the field, according to nERD, but what really weighs down the strength of the region is that the South does not have the highest-rated team on any seed line other than the 7, 8, 13, and 15. The 2 seed Cincinnati, 4 seed Arizona, and 6 seed Miami (FL) all rate as the worst squad on their seed line.
The region ranks relatively high because the strength of its quadrants does not drag it down. Each of their groups rate in the middle of the pack compared to the other regions.
1 -- Midwest Region
Average nERD: 9.71
As far as the quadrants go, the Midwest has the best group of teams in the 1 through 4, 9 through 12, and 13 through 16 seeds, while the 5 through 8 seeds rate the worst. Duke and Michigan State are each around two full points better than the next best team on their seed line, and the 4 seed Auburn is the second-best 4 seed.
While the Jayhawks are the 1 seed, we do have them as the third-best team in the Midwest behind the Blue Devils and Spartans. When you add Kansas' relative lack of power (compared to the other 1 seeds) to the the strength in the Jayhawks' region, it will be tough for the coach Bill Self's bunch to reach the Final Four.