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NCAA March Madness Program Rankings, 2019 Edition

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NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Virginia vs Texas Tech Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A few years back, a recurring Bob Sturm NFL Super Bowl franchise ranking system inspired me to create a college basketball equivalent. The formula changed a bit in the first couple of seasons based on suggestions from nerds, but the idea remains largely the same.

A recap of the system:

  1. The rankings encapsulate every year since the field went to 64 teams in 1985, so there’s now 34 years of data included. This has helped smooth out some of the bumps along the way and better keep teams with a short run of success in a proper placement. Imagine how different these rankings would have been in the mid-1990s; programs like Arkansas and UNLV would be sitting way higher than they do now.
  2. The list consists almost exclusively of teams who have made it to a Final Four, because to make the top 25 with a program who never went to the final weekend is incredibly unlikely. So far Xavier is the only program I’ve found to accrue enough points to warrant monitoring without making the Final Four. I also track all the Big 12 schools for the hell of it, but Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, and TCU haven’t gotten far enough to do much damage in these rankings. Neither has Texas Tech, though they’ve made up a lot of ground in the last 14 months.
  3. The point system was using the Fibonacci number to retain a relative value for advancing in the tournament. Using 1 point per round unintentionally punished teams who made it further; a team who made the 2nd round got twice the points (2) as a team who lost in the first round (1), but a team who made the Elite Eight (4) only got 13 more than a Sweet Sixteen team (3). It made the rankings even dumber than they already are, so I went with our sweet Italian math genius’ numbers instead. (Little-known fact, he also invented threesomes. Why he’s not on the Euro is beyond me.) Then the NCAA expanded to 68 teams and I had to modify it a bit because nothing in life worth doing is easy, especially the things not worth doing.
  4. I’m using March Madness as a proxy for program strength as the best teams make the tournament and make runs regularly, but it’s fair to consider there are weaknesses in this measurement. If there was a way to synthesize regular-season achievements into this, I would, sounds like a lot of work so...uhh, here you go.

The point system is as follows:

March Madness Points

Round Achieved Points
Round Achieved Points
First Four 1
Field of 64 3
Second Round 4
Sweet Sixteen 7
Elite Eight 11
Final Four 18
Championship Game 29
NCAA Title 47
March Madness Points System

I should mention these points are not cumulative; a team who wins the national title gets 47 points, not 120.

Without further ado, here are the rankings after the 2019 NCAA Tournament:

2019 March Madness Rankings

2019 Rank Program 2019 Points 2018 Points 2018 Rank
2019 Rank Program 2019 Points 2018 Points 2018 Rank
1 Duke 544 533 1
2 UNC 468 461 2
3 Kentucky 417 406 4
4 Kansas 414 410 3
5 UConn 311 311 5
6 Mich St. 293 275 6t
7 Arizona 275 275 6t
8 Syracuse 266 263 8
9 Louisville 257 254 9
10 Florida 256 252 10
11 Villanova 249 245 11
12 Michigan 246 239 12
13 UCLA 229 229 13
14 Indiana 197 197 14
15 OU 180 176 15
16 Arkansas 169 169 16
17 Wisconsin 160 157 17
18 Maryland 159 155 18
19t Georgetown 153 153 19
19t Ohio State 153 149 20
21 Gonzaga 148 137 24
22 UNLV 143 143 21
23 Texas 139 139 22
24 Illinois 137 137 23
25 Virginia 135 88 38
2019 Top 25 March Madness Programs

  • A lot of the list is pretty intuitive, it’s not surprising that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas are at the top. The gap between Duke and North Carolina is pretty substantial; if Duke missed the next two tournaments and UNC came in first & second those two years, UNC would still only tie the Blue Devils.
  • The next four below the blue bloods are all reliant on a generational coach for their scores in Tom Izzo, Lute Olson, Jim Calhoun, and Jim Boeheim, which isn’t a knock on any program so much as a decent showcase for how much a Hall of Fame-level coach can alter a program’s trajectory. I find it interesting how close 6-12 are, they have the capacity to flip around a lot in a given year or two.
  • Once you get into the teens, you start to see some programs who are sliding backwards as their glory days start to dim a bit in the distance. Arkansas, Indiana, UNLV, and Illinois are in lesser positions than they would have been a decade or two ago.
  • Villanova, Gonzaga, and Virginia are rocketing up the rankings the last few years; Virginia in particular showcases how divergent Tony Bennett’s success has been from Virginia’s history post-tourney expansion. He’s one UMBC upset away from probably having the Cavaliers in the teens, and prior to him they scored 56 points total. He’s been a godsend for a long-suffering fanbase.
  • The five teams waiting in the wings: Memphis (129 points), Xavier (121), Cincinnati (120), Butler (115), and Oklahoma State (113).

You can look at the source data here if you like, including may haphazard attempts at conditional formatting which work much better in Excel than Google Sheets.

UPDATE 05/16/2019: A Redditor pointed out Purdue has a history worth checking out, and he’s right. They have 140 points in this system, good for 23rd place. They’ll get added to the list going forward.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by The Yellowheads.