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Predicting a champion through video game simulation

Forget analytics and numbers, when you have the last college basketball game out there—EA’s NCAA Basketball 10.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Maryland vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NCAA Tournament opening round tips off today! If you haven’t already locked in your brackets, there are just a few hours left before the games begin.

To help out those last-minute bracket fillers--or maybe even offer a last-minute prediction--I decided to look back at the last college basketball video game ever released. I stumbled upon this old gem in my closet and dusted off the cobwebs of my PlayStation 3 to load the game.

While the kids these days are all about NBA 2K--and maybe NBA Live--NCAA Basketball 10 came out before the fancy technology of 4K magic and the great graphics and presentation schemes of the current games. Some of the current Division I programs aren’t in the game, since they weren’t at that level yet in 2009-10. FOX Sports 1 isn’t a presentation option, but it does have CBS and ESPN. Interestingly enough, Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery are featured as a broadcasting duo.

Fortunately, there is a sports gaming community, Operation Sports, that has worked to keep the game relevant. Using a team of editors, they were able to go through and correctly name, update, and edit the rankings for every single player on every single team in the game. After I downloaded and installed the 2017-18 roster file, the game was revitalized with the current teams.

Using the game’s NCAA Tournament mode, you can plug in and customize your 64-team tournament field. So, I went ahead and entered this year’s batch.

Some notes about this simulation:

  • 13-seed Charleston is not available in the game, so Charleston Southern was used as a substitute. It was disappointing that Charleston couldn’t be used, but as a 13-seed, it wasn’t entirely a big damper on the operation.
  • There isn’t a First Four (since it wasn’t added to the tournament until a year later), so I waited until the field was narrowed down to 64 in order to plug the teams into the proper seeds and regions.
  • Did not expect that the longest part of putting together the simulation would be entering the teams into the tournament field. The entire simulation itself was done in minutes, but it took about 15-20 minutes to get the brackets right. It was definitely not a practical system or format.

Once everything was set, I ran a simulation to see how the Villanova WIldcats would do, and how the game thinks the tournament will go overall. This post will be organized into three sections--the Wildcats, the Final Four, and a region-by-region breakdown. Since everyone may or may not care for the other regions, we’ll go straight into...

Villanova’s Outlook

The Wildcats will open things up with a comfortable 16-point victory against the Radford Highlanders. The simulation predicts a quiet game for Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, but sees a monster game from Omari Spellman--who will be the biggest player on the court--and Phil Booth. From there, ‘Nova will blowout the Collin Sexton-led Alabama Crimson Tide in the Round of 32, beating them by just over 30 points. Every starter, as well as Donte DiVincenzo, scores at least 13 points in a lopsided win, where the ‘Cats solve the stingy Alabama three-point defense.

In the Sweet 16, Villanova meets the Wichita State Shockers, who managed to pick apart the West Virginia press. The Shockers don’t shock the Wildcats, as they struggle to get it going against Villanova’s defense. Wichita State loses in lopsided fashion, allowing Villanova to have a Bench Mob appearance for the third game in a row.

Waiting for them in the Elite Eight, the Purdue Boilermakers enter the game with a lot of size and length, but falter at the hands of the Killer B’s. Brunson, Bridges, and Booth each go off for at least 20 points each, as the Wildcats get the game that was taken from them back in Atlantis. The Boilermakers lose their slight halftime lead, as those three captains take over in the second half. No Bench Mob this time around, but Villanova does get its second Final Four in three years and the third-ever appearance under Jay Wright.

The Final Four

Villanova is the odd man out in a Final Four filled with ACC teams. The Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Cavaliers, and the North Carolina Tar Heels join the ‘Cats.

The Wildcats and the Blue Devils engage in a back-and-forth contest, one that’s high-scoring and goes into overtime. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, they don’t keep up with the Blue Devils in overtime, where they lose by nine to the likes of Grayson Allen and Co.

Duke advances to the championship game against Virginia. The Cavaliers’ patented defense limits the Blue Devils en route to a 66-60 victory. Virginia is able to cut the nets, even without the services of an injured DeAndre Hunter.

Region-by-Region Breakdown

East: The simulation has this corner of the bracket almost going completely in chalk. The only exception would be Alabama, who beats Virginia Tech in a close game. After that, all of the higher seeds advance. Unfortunately, that means the Butler Bulldogs lose in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to Arkansas. Not much madness or chaos here.

Midwest: This region opens in chalk, as all of the higher seeds advance to the Round of 32. They go onto win and move into the Sweet 16, but there were a few scares. Seton Hall almost upset Kansas, and the Auburn Tigers had a second half comeback after trailing to the Clemson Tigers by 11 at halftime. Things got interesting in the Sweet 16, where Auburn upset No. 1-seed Kansas, and Duke edged out the Michigan State Spartans in overtime. The Blue Devils would bounce back with a greater effort against Auburn to go to the Final Four.

South: The Big East gets another victory, this time from Marcus Foster leading the Creighton Bluejays past the team that previously kicked him off--the Kansas State Wildcats. As for the rest of the opening round games, they go in favor of the higher seeds, but the Texas Longhorns get a big game from Mo Bamba, who backs up his word of being “100 percent.” In the second round, Virginia ends Creighton’s season. Red-hot Arizona takes down Calipari’s ‘Cats, and the Cincinnati Bearcats silence Texas. The Hurricanes are able to upset Tennesee, then pull another upset on Cincy to move onto the Elite Eight, saving the world from boredom robbing the world of a defensive showdown. Meanwhile, the Wahoos’ defensive machine continues to roll through opponents on their way to the Elite Eight and eventually the Final Four.

West: Everything goes according to plan, except for when the San Diego State Aztecs stun the Houston Cougars in an opening round, 6/11 matchup. As for the Big East teams, Providence loses its first game and the Xavier Musketeers make it as far as the Sweet 16, before being upset by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Michigan and UNC meet in an epic Sweet 16 showdown, but the Tar Heels tough schedule was able to prepare them for this moment. The Tar Heels down the Wolverines, and then go on to beat Gonzaga.

The Complete Simulated NCAA Tournament Bracket

(You can Right Click —> Open in a New Tab to enlarge it.)