The NCAA Tournament Is Close Enough Comment Count

Brian March 28th, 2018 at 5:42 PM


[Patrick Barron]

From time to time you'll see an assertion that the NCAA basketball tournament is a bad way to determine a champion, because it's single elimination, not particularly fair, and doesn't really prove who the best team is. The Ken Pomeroy:

He's in the middle of arguing for a re-seed after the first weekend, FWIW.

I bring it up because I think the tournament actually does a good job. The point of playoffs is to spit out a worthy champion, and college basketball almost always does. My favorite method to judge championship-worthy teams is a score-blind strength of record ranking. SOR is an attempt to calculate which team accomplished the most over the course of the season, and that seems like the best way to pick a champion. ESPN's version of that stat goes back to 2008. Final Fours since:

YEAR #1 #2 semi semi
2017 #1 UNC #3 Gonzaga #24 South Carolina #9 Oregon
2016 #3 Nova #2 UNC #5 Oklahoma #30 Syracuse
2015 #3 Duke #2 Wisconsin #1 Kentucky #13 MSU
2014 #8 UConn #10 Kentucky #1 Florida #3 Wisconsin
2013 #1 Louisville #2 Michigan #9 Syracuse #17 Wichita State
2012 #1 Kentucky #3 Kansas #9 Louisville #4 OSU
2011 #3 UConn #30 Butler #7 Kentucky #46 VCU
2010 #1 Duke #7 Butler #4 WVU #12 MSU
2009 #1 UNC #4 MSU #2 UConn #7 Nova
2008 #2 Kansas #3 Memphis #1 UNC #4 UCLA

Only one champion in ten years finished the season ranked worse than #3, and surely there's enough wobble in any stat to declare that good enough. Only four times has a team ranked outside the top 4 even reached the title game, and the lone winner from the depths still finished 8th.

Unless Loyola pulls an upset on Saturday, this will continue: Villanova, Kansas, and Michigan are 2, 3, and 4, respectively. Loyola is 21st.

This situation does not hold for college hockey, by the way. Despite having far fewer competitive programs—about 40—KRACH ranked 2015 champion Providence 16th, 2013 champion Yale 13th, 2011 champ Minnesota-Duluth 7th, 2008 champ BC 10th, and 2007 champ MSU 12th. It's little better than a coin flip between a team that can claim to legitimately have had the best season and some rando that just squeezed in. That's why this space rails against that single-elimination tourney while being sanguine about basketball's.



March 28th, 2018 at 6:13 PM ^

no, it is not, it is to determine a worthy champion


I know I am in the minority but I really wish we would split division 1 in two (or even three) like football does and then make it a best of 3 between the top 16 teams, preferably at home sites. 


One offs in basketball is a silly way to determine which team is best. Unless you literally believed in early February that Northwestern was better than Michigan, you should understand this.




This extends to pros too ....


I so wish we would go to the Euro soccer model. People can have their cups for random enjoyment but play true round robins and give the most important trophy to the team that was consistently  great.


Of our big four leagues, I only find the NBA playoffs to be close to gratifying. Over 7 games of basketball, I think you have a good argument for best team. 


NHL playoffs are fun as hell, but puck luck in a 7 game series is crazy.


Football is random to begin with because you play less games, so I guess it is a whatever, but why the NFL couldn't split into a higher and lower division with a single round robin and regulation is beyond me. 


The stupidest is by far baseball. The Tigers will probably win once (more likely twice) in 6 times versus the Astros this year. So, they smartly spend 162 games determining who is best. And then they go crazy and literally use a 1, 5, 7, 7 format. Odds makers admit that every series is little more than a coin flip. 


March 28th, 2018 at 6:24 PM ^

then the stupidest by far is hockey because they let 16 teams into a playoff that is basically a series of coin flips.

You're correct that baseball is a similar series of coin flips once the playoffs begin but at least they guarantee the six with the best record from the regular season will make it to the quarterfinals.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:26 PM ^

The NBA playoffs do indeed tend to provide a "correct" winner due to the nature of the sport. But their entertainment value is wildly dependent upon the quality of teams that are playing in a given year. Some seasons there can be three or four teams thought to be capable of winning a title; some seasons the winner is almost a foregone conclusion. 

Part of the fun of sports is the drama. The knowledge that one play can truly make or break a season. A last-second shot, or a key pass completion. 

Your ideas sound like fair ways to determine better teams. They are also completely boring.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:40 PM ^

Totally agree, but entertainment is totally in the eyes of the beholder. 

When discounting whatever team I support (because obviously my favorite result is that team wining), I am most entertained when I feel thoroughly convinced that the champion is the best team. For me, the point of sports is to celebrate greatness.
Hence, I always love the NBA playoffs. I find them very satisfying and watch as many games possible. 
In contrasts, I often struggle to watch the NHL or MLB playoffs unless my team is involved. The result feels far to random to me to invest my time. 
I guess I don't really care about drama. In the end, it is fine. I just prefer something different. 


March 29th, 2018 at 7:09 AM ^

No sport is about deciding the "most worthy" champion.  If that was the case, the two teams with the best record would simply play for the championship.  We wouldn't have wild card teams. 

The tournament, the playoffs, in every sport, are created to sell TV time, increase betting, and to entertain the fans.  The crowning of the champion is just the icing on the cake.

I like it the way it is. 


March 29th, 2018 at 7:26 AM ^

You're really just making a case for no playoffs at all, which is fine, by the way.  The NBA could go to an EPL style system where all teams are in a single league and play each other twice and at the end of the season the team with the best record is crowned champion.  THAT'S determing which team is the best, and it's still compelling in it's own way.

The NBA playoffs are the worst because they are always such a foregone conclusion.  Oh sure, the Finals might be a bit compelling because there's a 50/50 chance between the teams competing, but the teams that are there are almost certainly the teams that were forecast to be there when the playoffs started.  If the playoffs just serve as confirmation bias for which team is the best, then what's the point?


March 29th, 2018 at 9:50 AM ^

NBA has found itself in an odd place with that right now.  Basically, until further notice, you go into the season with one thing clear, the Golden State Warriors are going to win the title and everybody else is playing for second place.  The Cavs?  The Rockets?  The Celtics?  Nope, nope, and nope!   That is not exactly the most compelling premise, but somehow the NBA ratings are doing very well.  Is it that there is that much excitement for people to find out if somebody is going to de-throne them?  I don't think so.  It is not as though the Warriors have legions of detractors, like the Bulls of the 90s did.  I really don't know anybody who strongly dislikes them to the extent that interest is generated from simply wanting them to go down.  It is though the NBA and "who wins the NBA" are two seperate things entirely, and one need not necessarily be interested in or compelled by the latter to be interested in the former.

As for the NCAA tournament, the college basketball season has several different stages, each of which can make a season successful.  Conference regular season title, conference tourney title, Final Four, NCAA title, any of these things can be the marker of success for a team.  The National Champion that comes out of March Madness is but one measure, and often a very forgettable one at that to people outside of that team's fanbase.

The NCAA tournament is what it is, and it is fun, and it does produce a champion.  That champion may not be "the best team" by objective metrics, but it doesn't have to be.  Often times, a team will win the tourney with a team that isn't even nesserarily a "vintage" team for that program.  This Michigan team could win it all, but it wouldn't have beat the 2013 team, and probably not the 2014 team, either.  Last years team would probably taken this team to OT.

It's March Madness.  It has a life of its own.  No need to try to change it to be something it isn't.


March 29th, 2018 at 10:21 AM ^

Totally agree, most pro leagues would be much better if the big champion was awarded without a playoff. There could still be a season long cup to generate money and randomness for the fans

I want a system that rewards the best team.

And again, the NBA playoffs are the best. MLB and NHL playoffs are basically high drama coin flips. They prove nothing.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:49 PM ^

I would be overjoyed  and not give a damn. I so hope to be losing my mind at about 10:30 central time on Monday in the Alamodome with y'all. You can only win the system you are in. It would make them worthy I guess. But, I am not rational about Michigan Sports, Cubs baseball, and USMNT soccer. 

That doesn't mean we can't consider better systems.
But honestly no, I won't be convinced we are the best team in the nation. However, if we had won best out of threes against say UNC, Xavier, Virginia, and Nova and Duke, I would think we had proven to be the best. 
I think champion should mean best team I guess. 


March 28th, 2018 at 7:02 PM ^

So winning once proves nothing but winning twice does? Why? That’s an arbitrary cutoff. My team could win 2-1 and get outscored over the three games. Is my team superior then?

And in a sport with 350 teams, how are you realistically going to prove who the best team is? Unless you want the season to last about five years, you have to cut some corners to crown a champion.


March 28th, 2018 at 7:02 PM ^

My perfect world would probably split D1 into three separate divisions. 

And again, it is not perfect, but if you don't see a difference in quality (and hence impressiveness) between winning neutral site one offs with Montana, Houston, A+M, FSU, L-C, and say NOVA versus winning best of 3s (probably on the road) against UNC, Xavier, Virginia, and Nova, than I don't know man. 

Mr Miggle

March 29th, 2018 at 8:28 AM ^

scheduled. If you are going to significantly lengthen the season, you should be able to make the playoffs better. CBB is a sport with a significant statistical home court advantage. Asking teams to play series entirely on the road is a bigger disadvantage than you would find in the playoffs of any other sport I'm aware of.

Basketball is one sport where smaller schools with limited athletic budgets can be competitive with the big boys. And they frequently are. Not only is that something that helps make college basketball special, it makes it hard to force schools to drop down a level. What criteria could you use?

I look forward to seeing Cinderellas in the tournament. Schools like Loyola that might actually be very good, but were overlooked because of their conference. A lot would be lost if the tournament was reduced to the same small pool of schools every year.

While no system is perfect, I think your proposal would make it significantly worse in every way.



March 29th, 2018 at 7:53 AM ^

But honestly no, I won't be convinced we are the best team in the nation. However, if we had won best out of threes against say UNC, Xavier, Virginia, and Nova and Duke, I would think we had proven to be the best.

I think champion should mean best team I guess.

I ask you to define "best team". Champion is easy to define, the team that's still standing at the end of a competition format. Best team is a subjective concept and arguing for manipulating a playoff format to ensure that it's result produces a champion that confirms it's the "best team" is arbitrary.

Your suggestion on making teams win best of threes against the top competition would just protect the haves and ensure the have nots never get to rise. This might be more acceptable in the professional ranks since franchises can actively manage rosters to improve their fortunes via trades, increasing payroll, etc. College sports (non-cynical version) don't have these options. The reason why the NCAA it great and compelling is because any team in it has a real chance to advance, and sometimes, you get a Loyola-Chicago that actually does.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:34 PM ^


1 - Your premise is incorrect.  The point is to entertain (non-cynical version) or to make money (cynical version).  Trying to determine a  worthy champion has nothing to do with it.

This is good, because

2 - When teams are evenly matched, you need a ridiculous number of games to determine who's better.  I can't find it now, but I remember seeing an analysis of the length of a series you'd need in order to determine, within a reasonable degree of certainty, the best team if one was a 55% favorite.  The answer was something like best-of-57.

European championships might reward the most deserving team; they also often have all of the excitement of a baseball pennant race.  ("Here, have two wild cards and six divisions; that'll distract people from the fact that the pennant is decided by Labor Day!")


March 28th, 2018 at 6:36 PM ^

The European Soccer model only works in the domestic leagues, which are double-round-robin. The European Championship reduces 16 teams to 2 by playing home-and-home aggregate rounds and then determines a champion using a single game that, if drawn after 120 minutes, is resolved by penalty kicks.

The World Cup is even worse. Soccer is not a great example for this.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:48 PM ^

Oh, I know.  I was trying to address the original comment on the merit of his own arguments.  I don't think he meant to imply that we should all move to a World Cup style tournament, although I, for one, would enjoy the absurdity of watching Duke frantically run up the score on Mercer to make sure that they went through on point differential.  (Er, wait... perhaps not. ;)

The NCAA tournament is popular precisely because it doesn't do this.  It's the closest thing the US has to the FA Cup, or the old Indiana state high school tournament that made the movie Hoosiers so great.  Milan High vs. East Kokomo wouldn't have made for a compelling movie.  (They ruined it a while back by adding classes, so there's no longer a single champion for the state).

Rather than cut out the low- and mid-majors -- and the wonderful drama of things like Mercer over Duke and Middle Tennessee over MSU -- I'd rather the NCAA have an all-divisions tournament.  If Caltech can win 7 or 8 games in a row to be champion, so be it. :)


March 28th, 2018 at 6:56 PM ^

The thing is, I find baseball's pennant races exciting. Takes long term vision, strategy, and about a 40 man roster. Instead, the playoffs are a coin flip. I find it random and I don't find randomness all that exciting especially when it goes against boatloads of previous data. I find it merely random. 

And I find tournaments that treat UMBC as better than Virginia based on one night's evidence when we have 4 months worth of counter evidence to be problematic.  



In regards to you second point.

I agree, we can't play 57 game series. The system can't be perfect. That doesn't mean it can't be improved. 


March 28th, 2018 at 7:14 PM ^

It's a straw man, though.  Nobody, outside of maybe the UMBC players and their families, really thinks they were better than Virginia this season.  But the 48-hour whirlwind from "Who?" to "down a couple vs. K-State for a Sweet 16 bid" was amazing and represented everything that is great about the NCAA tournament.  Heck, Loyola isn't one of the four best teams in the country, but right now they're America's darlings (non-Michigan-fan edition).

If you just started the tournament at the Sweet 16 every year, you might get a "more deserving" champion, but you'd also lose the human element that makes it a compelling event in the first place.


March 28th, 2018 at 7:29 PM ^

1000 times yes.

I was much more invested in the UMBC-K-State game than in Kansas-Duke.  Neither Kansas nor Duke hold any interest for me.  I was cheering for Kansas mostly because I believe Duke is a better opponent; if Michigan wins Saturday, I'll be cheering for KU again for the same reason.  But UMBC?  That was a story.  Underdogs who had to work for everything, not pampered BMOCs at a basketball factory.

Yes, the Kansas-Duke game was more exciting on the court, and an objectively better game.  But I would trade it for a nice juicy upset (against anyone other than Michigan) any day.

I was almost as devastated when Butler missed the half-court shot against Duke as I was when Webber called timeout*.  I was glued to my seat for that entire game.  UNC-Villanova?  I think I tuned in with about a minute left.  It just wasn't as compelling.

* Except that game never happened so he never called timeout.  Thanks Ed Martin!


March 28th, 2018 at 7:45 PM ^

I guess we are wired different.

I thought Kansas-Duke was compelling and exciting to watch and would happily sign up for a series and kansas state-umbc was the opposite.
Furthermore, I question this because a Kansas-Duke game during the regular season gets good ratings. No neutral is tuning into K State - UMBC. It is clear which is better basketball.  


And do you honestly think the athletes at Kansas and Duke don't also work hard? 

This is a false and frustrating narrative you push that people eat up for some reason.  


March 28th, 2018 at 8:47 PM ^

Of course the athletes at Duke and Kansas work hard.  But they also have a ton of advantages over the UMBC players.

Regular season basketball is different because the stakes are low.  Yes, I would rather watch Kansas / Duke in the regular season.  Loyola won at Florida in December, and it wasn't a particularly big deal.  I doubt it even got a board thread.  The tournament amplifies the emotions because it amplifies the games' meanings.  For a moment, UMBC was five wins away from a national championship in a way that never could have happened in December.


March 29th, 2018 at 7:29 AM ^

sport is a physical and mental contest. Coaches, players, hell trainers...spent the season tuning for the tourney (and some likely did not). The NCAA tournament is a format which alllows teams to match up, one v one, bring the best you have. THAT is sport.

On any given night, any given scenario, my best plan, my best effort is what a GAME is...dumbing it down to a best of five, seven, fifty-seven is just wasting time. If the goliath due to the david who outplanned, out played, and showed more heart, more intesity, more luck? If they hung toe to toe, so be it. The matchups are what sport IS. Bring your best, and I will beat you.

This is what I love about sport and contest. And if you use the rationale of top 4 teams ending up in the championship game...I'd say that's pretty respectable and proves or at least validates the theory the best will rise. If you think Virginia was the 'best'...maybe they needed to play in the B1G10 which has often been 'our' argument, that in conference, maybe moreso during football...our own teams beat the daylights out of each other and by the time bowl season, tourney season comes around, they are not in top form.

I guess my big point is, the rules are set, the programs understand the rules...and the little davids of the world have figured out how to manipulate the process. I guess if you want to go hard core as you seem to profess...REALLY level the field. ALL shots are two points, remove free throws, remove the three point arc. If you are fouled the ball goes out of bounds, shot clock restarts, and game on. That way Michigan does not have a disadvantage at the free throw line, nor an advantage at the 3 point line...every basket is the same so all values are the same.


March 29th, 2018 at 9:59 AM ^

on every point except for Butler loss = Webber timeout.  The Webber timeout was like an actual traumatic life event at the time.  The Butler loss doesn't even register.  It was a cool story at the time but we are talking Michigan v. some random Butler team here.


March 29th, 2018 at 11:21 AM ^

It is entirely possible that my memory has filtered out some of the trauma as a defense mechanism. ;)  Also I do still get sick to my stomach every time I see a replay.  So.. yeah, maybe I misspoke. :)


March 28th, 2018 at 7:58 PM ^

Heck, Loyola isn't one of the four best teams in the country

Psssst: We might not be either. 

We got to the Final Four beating a 14 seed, a 6 seed, a 7 seed, and a 9 seed. 

Don't tell anybody.



March 29th, 2018 at 9:18 AM ^

"We got to the Final Four beating a 14 seed, a 6 seed, a 7 seed [who beat a 2 seed], and a 9 seed [who beat a 1 seed]."

Which seems to indicate T&A-M and FSU were better than their seeding.  I'd say we're just as qualified to carry "the best" banner as anyone else.


March 28th, 2018 at 8:06 PM ^

at least not the way you've described it.

If the goal is to determine who is "better" the hypothesis you're testing is essentially the same as testing whether a coin is fair, i.e. test whether the probability of one team winning is greater than 50%.

There isn't necessarily a set number of trials needed to determine this.  It's a function of how many Ws and Ls each team has after any number of trials.

If there are five games and one team wins all five (P = 0.03125), then one can say with 95% confidence that the 5-0 team is better.  If after 8 games, one team has won 7, they are the better team with 95% confidence.

If the teams play 57 games, and it's 29-28 one can definitely not say that one team is better than the other at a reasonable degree of confidence.

So the number of games needed is really a moving target based on what your current results are. 


March 28th, 2018 at 8:43 PM ^

I understand what you're saying, but I can assure you that it does work.

Here's the basic math behind it., along with a few examples.  Let's start with the one that I was trying to remember off of the top of my head.  It turns out to be how to distinguish between Team A and Team B if Team A will win 60% of the time.

You can model the events using a Bernoulli Distribution (aka the binomial distribution); there's a calculator here to check my work.  In this case, we're using p=0.60.  Sadly, I wasn't able to find the reverse formula -- determining the number of trials required to achieve significance -- but you can do it with trial and error.  If we accept a 95% probability, then what we're looking for is the number of trials N such that team A is 95% likely to win at least (N + 1) / 2 of those (for odd N).

The numbers turned out to be even worse than I remembered.  Giving it a try, I put in 65 trials and 33 successes.  The value that's interesting is the last one -- Cumulative probability: P(X >   x).  In this case, it's 94.9%; still below the level of significance.  (Or, put another way, team B will win 5.1% of all 65-game series despite being the worse team).  Extending the series to 67 (!) trials and 34 successes bumps the likelihood up to 95.2% that the better team wins.

Your objection, of course, is that if they are tied 33-33 after 66 trials, then the 67th trial shouldn't really prove very much, and you're right about that, as far as it goes.  However, there's not much of a chance that you'll end up in that spot in the first place.  If you put in 66 trials and 33 successes, and this time look at the first line (Binomial probability: P(X = x)), I see that there's only about a 2.5% chance that the better team will win exactly 33 of the first 66 games.  It's far more likely that the series ended earlier.


March 28th, 2018 at 9:27 PM ^

Assumption, but we dont have a way to know that Team A should win 60% of games, and I submit that if you played 66 games between them and were knotted 33-33, you would be fitted for a straight jacket if you tried to insist team A was better at all.


March 28th, 2018 at 9:49 PM ^

Two responses -- and feel free to pick on me, as I believe everything I write :)

1 - you're right; one is hypothesizing the 60/40 difference.  In order to make the 67th game meaningful, you have to be told "one of these teams is so much better than the other that they have a 60% chance to win each game."  At that point, forced to make a choice, it's clearly better to choose the team that wins the final game than the team that loses it.  "These teams really aren't that different" is a better answer, if it is allowed.

2 - You're right, and yet people regularly insist that team A is better based upon a single head-to-head matchup.  :)

BTW, you can also use a chi-square test to calculate the likelihood of a specific outcome.  In this case, you'd do it by having the null hypothesis be that team A is better, and you'd test it by plugging in values where B won the series and see if they invalidated the null hypothesis.  This actually requires even more games -- if Team B won an 83-game series, you can confidently say that they had greater than a 40% chance to win any game.  Chi-square is more commonly used for larger distributions -- e.g., testing the fairness of dice -- but it works for this kind of case as well.

Long story short -- N-game series tell us significantly less about the better team than many people believe.

Conclusion -- we may as well use a tournament-type format, because while it has its flaws, it's fun, and more mathematically rigrorous systems are impractical. :)

Monocle Smile

March 28th, 2018 at 6:36 PM ^

I knew you were a soccer fan from that very first paragraph.

The initial seeding is the reward for being "consistently great" or at least something along those lines, although I'm a fan of giving more credence to the second half of the season.

Single elimination is what makes things exciting in March. You know who likes round robin? Teams that lose. A lot.


March 28th, 2018 at 10:35 PM ^

There is no perfect system.  Your system has flaws.

Team A goes 30-0 in the regular season.  It then sweeps the first 3 rounds without a single close game and is now 36-0.

Team B goes 24-6 in the regular season.  It then wins the first 3 rounds by a 2 to 1 margin with lots of "luck" and is now 30-10.

The Championship is a 36-0 Team A vs a 30-10 Team B.  In Game 1, Team A blows out Team B, but Team A has its best player injured for the rest of the season.  Team B then wins the next 2 games in OT with questionable calls from the ref.

Team B is champion.

Do you honestly think Team B had the better season at 32-11 than Team A at 37-2?


March 29th, 2018 at 8:07 AM ^

We’re the Giants a better team than the 19-0 Patriots? Playoffs are playoffs—and unless you cut the # of teams and invoke Best of 3, you deal with it.

If you are the better team, you move on. If you are good enough to win a NC, you do not lose your matches in tourney.

Do not compare regular season results to playoffs. My Bears once beat Packers twice in regular season but lost to them in the playoffs. That’s part of the entertainment and competitive aspect of sports.


March 29th, 2018 at 9:37 AM ^

While I love the tourney and March Madness, et al, and I suppose it's somewhat hypocritical to say...I'd like to see it done similar to how softball does it, with bracketing. Not sure how it should all work, but I do feel you're not really putting the very best against each other throughout if one bad day can drop you.
That said, I can't deny the data that shows its pretty close.


March 28th, 2018 at 5:59 PM ^

The committee already puts together a field that is supposed to favor the top seeds - giving them the weakest opponents off the bat and often, geographically favorable game locations.  I don't see why they need to be given still another boost after one weekend.  How much does the deck need to be stacked?

(There is also the issue that there are about 350 teams and a team typically plays 30-34 games in the regular season, so there are limits to how precisely you can rank the entire field, given the greatly varying schedules.)


March 28th, 2018 at 6:02 PM ^

The CFB Playoff does a good job of crowning a deserving champion because the field is so small that every team that qualifies has a quality championship resume. The problem is that the field is so small that occasionally (frequently?) teams with quality championship resumes are left out and don't get a chance to settle it on the field. 


March 28th, 2018 at 6:02 PM ^

Is because it is the one time that most of America condones and participates in gambling.

Full stop.

Sure, Ed from the loading dock could go around work for three Mondays in a row and have everyone fill out their reseeded brackets, but honestly, wouldn't most just say why bother?

Less gambling in brackets = less interest = less TV viewers = less $$$$ for the NCAA.

Simple as that.


March 28th, 2018 at 6:26 PM ^

is 100% the answer. Kenpom may be correct that the NCAA can't publicly make this argument, but privately, this is the reason they'd be against reseeding.

The popularity of the NCAA tournament is derived heavily from bracket games in much the way that the NFL's popularity is deriving heavily from fantasy games.

Bracket games would be made more cumbersome by reseeding.

There is also an argument to be made for the NCAA wanting it to be easier for Cinderellas to make it far.  My guess is that the big boost in interest from casual fans from having Loyola in the tournament outweighs the boost they'd get by having "better" teams advance further. Again, similar to the NFL, I think parity and "freshness" of rotating contenders is good for ratings.  Could be wrong about that piece though.