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Statistics Are Useful Sometimes. And Sometimes Not.

Take this article for example. Please. Just take it somewhere.

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Michigan State v Duke
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 29: (L-R) Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans congratulates head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils after Duke won 71-61 during the Midwest Region Semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Statistics can be hugely useful as analytics proves to us. However, not all stats are equally useful.

Take this article from ESPN which says Duke got screwed in the brackets by moving to #1 overall.

First of all, you can’t really game the system or rather the committee can’t. Sure you might get easier matchups early. But so what? You still have to play the teams that advance and those teams are usually playing very well. If you can’t beat a team in the early rounds chances are you wouldn’t be teams in the later rounds anyway.

So the idea that getting Michigan State and Virginia Tech in the East was bad for Duke is not entirely sound and the odds are just ridiculous.

Check this out:

“Before the bracket was announced, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projected that Duke would have a 56.5 percent chance to reach the Final Four. After the bracket release, that number drops to 49.5 percent, a decrease of 7 percent. There are several reasons Blue Devils fans should be upset about Duke’s draw. “

Well first of all: .5? Why not .3 or .7 or you know, .384949393949845454545?

Second, 56.5 or 49.5, you can toss it out the window. And everyone else’s too. Because it’s nonsense.

The odds are against every team making it to the Final Four. This is always a crap shoot.

That’s just a given.

Now let’s look at these two teams for a second. To be clear, over the years we’ve expressed great admiration for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State program. He’s a superb coach and his teams are always, always tough, sound and very well coached.

We’ve also spoken a lot of the respect we have for what Buzz Williams has accomplished at Virginia Tech. He’s a tremendous coach who has recruited good kids and built a program anyone should admire. Nice kids who stick together and play hard as hell: what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, the Spartans have some really critical injuries. They’ve done well despite them but that has a cost. And also consider this: what is Izzo’s head-to-head record with Mike Krzyzewski? We think it’s 1-12 now.

If you want to game out stats for what might happen, fine. A look at what has happened is probably more useful though and those games have dozens of variables too from locale to officiating to injuries to players and on and on.

Of course Virginia Tech did beat Duke at Blacksburg. The Hokies didn’t have Justin Robinson and Duke was lacking Zion Williamson so that’s as is.

However, when was the last time Virginia Tech beat Duke outside of Blacksburg?

We’ll wait.

More relevantly, how did Virginia Tech do outside of Cassell this year?

The Hokies finished 24-8 and lost to Penn State, Virginia, UNC, Clemson, Florida State on the road.

At home they lost only to Louisville and Virginia and of course to Florida State in the ACC Tournament.

Look, both teams are good and either is capable of beating Duke. Virginia Tech already has.

But both teams have injuries to overcome or, in the case of Robinson, the Hokies have to reincorporate him into things and get his conditioning up to speed and then do what they haven’t done in a long time - beat Duke outside of Blacksburg.

And even that assumes they both advance (and Duke too for that matter).

Factor this in too: Michigan State will start play in Iowa, in the Big Ten’s geographical footprint, and will face a hot Bradley team. If they beat them they get either Louisville or conference rival Minnesota.

Louisville would be interesting defensively and obviously Minnesota knows them well and has no reason to be intimidated.

And as we said, they will be relatively close to home.

Virginia Tech, on the other hand, opens in San Jose. That’s about as far from home as you can get and the Hokies, historically, have not done well in tournaments.

Again, none of this minimizes our respect for what they’ve accomplished. Williams is on the verge of establishing a major national presence and in the nation’s best conference, which is why we think leaving for Texas A&M would be a huge mistake.

Obviously either of these teams can beat Duke. But to try to pin it down to a percentage - with a fraction! - is just ludicrous.

Somewhere in this article they might have mentioned that Tacko Fall is 7-6 and how ominous that is for a team that doesn’t shoot three pointers very well. He’s so imposing that UCF could just about play a zone and man-to-man at the same time. Just let him patrol the paint as a one-man zone, crowd the shooters and see what happens.

Somehow they overlooked that minor concern.

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