Why This Year's March Madness Is The Most Boring In History
Ignore the glory that is Trey Burke for one second, and forget about those few Ohio State buzzer beaters. As a whole, does this Tournament seem a little bit boring to you?
For every Marquette comeback over Davidson, there have been five Saint Louis demolitions of New Mexico State. Even the upsets, such as Oregon over St. Louis or Ole Miss over Wisconsin, have typically been double-digit affairs. The Elite Eight only produced one semi-close game, and that was only made possible by a furious Ohio State comeback against Wichita State.
So we decided to look: is this year's Tournament truly more boring than its predecessors? And if so, how would we go about statistically proving it?
For us, the answer lies in the average margin of victory. And when you look at how this year's squads are killing one another, it's easy to see why you may have actually gotten a bit more work done this year.
Inside the Margin of Victory
It's easy to argue that last year's Tourney was one of the most exciting Tournaments in a while. Every game in the Final Four was decided by eight points or less, and even the consensus No. 1 team Kentucky never won by more than 16 points. Across the board, the parity in the Tournament made for a bunch of close, exciting games.
We looked at the average margin of victory in those games, and it came out to 9.9 points per contest. If you think that sounds low, you're right: it was the second-lowest average margin of victory since 2000, only bested by 2006 (which we'll get to later).
So where does 2013 fall on the scale? Well, let's just say the far other end.
So far this year, the average margin of victory has been 13.5 points. That's the single-highest figure since 2008 and the second-highest figure since 2000.
While a few Syracuse 81, Montana 34 scores will skew that particular average, there haven't been too many complete blowouts. In fact, there have only been four 30+ point blowouts in this year's tournament (all of which in the first round): the Syracuse/Montana game, Louisville/North Carolina A&T, VCU/Akron, and Florida/Northwestern State. Otherwise, there have simply been a rash of not close but not blowout games.
Why does it feel more boring, then? Take into account the difference between last year's Tournament and this year's Tournament. That 3.6 points per game increase measures as the largest single-season margin of victory increase since at least 2000. Before the 2012 and 2013 Tournaments, there had not been a year-to-year margin of victory increase of more than 2.4 points per game (2006 to 2007).
Why Did It Happen?
Despite the large, yellow-shaded lettering of that question up there, it's hard to say.
Looking at the teams that advanced, some argument could be attempted that last year's Tournament saw higher-ranked teams advance further, and those higher-ranked teams played consistently closer games. Last year's Tournament saw three one seeds make the Elite Eight (as compared to one this year) and a Final Four of 1-2-2-4 seeds (as compared to 1-4-4-9 this year).
However, remember that 2006 Tournament I mentioned earlier, the one that had the closest average margin of victory since 2000? You may remember that better as the George Mason year, when not a single 1 seed made the Final Four. OK then, the upset theory is out.
Instead, my theory is that the top seeds have been more inconsistent this year, and that has not only allowed them to get beat, but get beat badly. Throughout the Tournament, we've been looking at the standard deviations of top seeds, measuring how much their efficiency scores have varied from game-to-game. And almost across the board, we've seen high variation for the top seeds.
Indiana? The 19th-highest standard deviation in the country. Wisconsin? 12th. Pittsburgh? 50th. And the list goes on. Generally, if you have a high standard deviation, then you either have a down game and get upset, or you murder teams due to an increase of already high efficiencies (see: 69th-highest standard deviation Syracuse). There isn't much in between.
The Final Four may buck this trend, but with Syracuse and Michigan both in the top 40 percentile of highest standard deviations and Louisville and Wichita State in the bottom 55 percent (making a Wichita State upset less likely), I'm not so sure that it will.
So grab that book you've been reading for the past two weeks. March Madness this season has become March Meh.