First of all, buy the sheet: http://spreadinvestor.com/2019/03/11/march-madness-sheet-rico/
Rankings in order of their FFI.
18. Prairie View (16 seed / 22.9)
The Panthers come in to their First Four game having won 21 of their last 22. Of course, the SWAC isn’t exactly the pinnacle of basketball and none of those wins came against anyone in the Top 200 of KenPom. Most Prairie View games involve a ton of free throws, a fast pace, and a lot of turnovers. It’s a wild ride.
17. Fairleigh Dickinson (16 seed / 44.0)
FDU started 1-4 in the NEC, but won 14 of their last 16 games. They’re down a starter right now, but the Knights have shooters all over the floor. Lead guard Jahlil Jenkins has been on a tear lately and big man Mike Holloway is capable of some monster games.
16. Montana (15 seed / 53.8)
I don’t think this Grizzly team is as good as the one a year ago due to the loss of Jamar Akoh, but they’re still a fun offense and one of the most experienced teams in the country. They draw Michigan again. The Wolverines beat them by 14 last year in a 3/14 matchup.
15. Vermont (13 seed / 54.5)
Anthony Lamb is the real deal and I’m excited to see what he can do against the never-ending length of Florida State. Lamb can do it all, but he’ll need a lot of help from their guards knocking down shots from the perimeter. The Mounts competed for a half against full-strength Kansas and half of a half against Louisville earlier this year.
14. Northern Kentucky (14 seed / 57.8)
The Norse have a pleasing offense to watch and it served them well in the Horizon League this year, but they drew the most disruptive defense in the country. If they’re able to pull off the upset, it’ll be because they were able to handle the Red Raider pressure and find the open shooters. NKU oftentimes has five of them on the floor at the same time.
13. Arizona State (11 seed / 59.8)
I’m not sure the Sun Devils are really any good or if they even deserve to be here, but they’re at least entertaining to watch sometimes.
12. St. John’s (11 seed / 64.8)
11. Syracuse (8 seed / 73.7)
The good news is that Tyus Battle is expected to be back for the Baylor game. The bad news is that even with Battle, the Orange still have some trouble scoring. They have a tendency to chuck and pray from the perimeter, which is a tough thing to rely on when you don’t have even one consistently great shooter. Oh, and they play a zone defense, in case you hadn’t heard.
10. Baylor (9 seed / 74.8)
The Bears somehow ended up being the most efficient offense in the Big 12. The formula was pretty simple: shoot threes at a high rate and if you miss ’em, just rebound it and try to put it back in. Makai Mason is the star of the show, but he’s been in and out of the lineup and it’d be a little surprising if he was able to repeat his tourney performance from a few years ago at Yale.
9. Murray State (12 seed / 75.5)
The Racers aren’t all Ja Morant because it’s impossible to rack up all of his assists without somebody on the receiving end, converting the play, but Morant still carries a heavy majority of the offense. Morant prefers to drive most of the time and he’ll be challenged by a big-time rim protector in Theo John for Marquette. The Racers chances greatly improve if John picks up a couple fouls early. Murray also has a chance to pull the upset because of how much pressure they put on shooters. If they can get into a Marquette team that can be a little soft, they can disrupt the Eagle offense.
8. Nevada (7 seed / 80.7)
I liked Nevada to go on a run last year because I thought their offense was great and they were in a region with a lot of defensive-minded teams. I don’t like them as much this year because I don’t think they have the same level of perimeter shooting they did a year ago, but they are trending up in that department. Cody Martin shot 44% in MW play after shooting just 26% in the non-con. And once again, they’re in the defensive grinder portion of the bracket, so maybe they do repeat last year’s Sweet 16 run.
7. Florida (10 seed / 82.8)
I don’t know if the Gators can score enough to do that much damage, but they pretty much always have a chance to win games because they give such a good effort defensively. They’ll have to get Nevada out of their comfort zone in the opening round because the Wolfpack are typically incredibly careful with the ball.
6. Marquette (5 seed / 84.9)
The season ended with a resounding thud, but the Big East Tournament wasn’t all bad. They destroyed St. John’s and dropped a close one in a wild affair against Seton Hall. As an aside, not sure I’ve ever seen somebody go 1-15 and score 21 points like Markus Howard did against the Pirates.
Anyway, if you get mid-season Marquette that was scoring on everybody, they can go on a run. If you get end-of-season Marquette with a hurt Markus Howard, they’ll probably lose in the opening round.
5. Buffalo (6 seed / 86.9)
They’re old. They’re tough. They’re legitimately talented. They’ve won a game in the tournament before. The one flaw that may stick out if you look at their efficiency stats is the three-point shooting numbers. It looks bad, but it’s really not. They have plenty of guys that can shoot. Their team number is dragged down by Jeremy Harris continuing to chuck every game and shooting 25.6% in the process. He attempts 6.4 a game and is shooting 25%. It’s understandable why Harris is under the belief he can shoot. After all, he was the best shooter in the MAC a year ago, but he’s been incredibly streaky this year. When Harris is on, they’re close to a Top 10 team in the country.
4. Florida State (4 seed / 87.0)
The Noles seem to be flying under the radar a little bit. They started off 1-4 in ACC play, but won 14 of their last 16, including that win over Virginia in the ACCT. Their 26-man rotation makes me a little nervous, but clearly it’s worked for them and it worked last year when they got to the Elite 8. And there was nothing cheap about that run.
Shooting can be a great equalizer in basketball, but so can length and athleticism and FSU has that in spades. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them take their run a weekend further this time around.
3. Texas Tech (3 seed / 97.5)
I’m sure you’ve all seen the stat by now about every national champ being Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s true, but the fine print on that is those numbers are AFTER the tournament has concluded. 2015 Duke was 37th on defense, but played a lot better in the dance and ended up 11th by the end of it.
I say that because Texas Tech has the #1 defense. The red flag has always been the offense. At one point I think they were in the 140s. (Just fact checked myself: they were 141 at one point, great job by me.) They are now up to 35th less than two months later and have one of the best scoring guards in the country with Jarrett Culver. Just something to think about.
2. Michigan (2 seed / 113.3)
At this point the Wolverines are on a regularly scheduled loss every third game so congratulations to who(m?)ever their opponent is in the Sweet 16.
The offense is trending in the right direction for Michigan, but I think at this point we can say definitively that they’re just not a very good shooting team. Their defense is outstanding, but I think with that you have to mention that the Big Ten as a whole was a much better defensive league than offensive. The average OE ranking of the league is 60.4 and the average DE ranking of the league is 38.2 nationally. MSU is one of the few great offenses in the league and the Spartans went 3-0 against them. All those games were close heading into the last 5 minutes of the game, but Michigan wasn’t able to make many plays late and the Spartans did. That trend has to be a concern as the Wolverines start to play better teams in the tournament.
With that said, John Beilein is one of the best coaches in CBB and it’s hard to bet against him.
1. Gonzaga (1 seed / 119.1)
I’m not overly concerned with the WCC championship game. It’s just one game and was such an outlier from every other conference game they played, but it does show what can happen if they have a poor shooting night against a team that can keep them off the glass.
I do think they need Killian Tillie to be good if they’re going to make the Final Four. Zach Norvell is a big-time shooter, but Corey Kispert has been a lot less productive in the second half of the season and Josh Perkins hasn’t really shot it that well consistently for the past couple of months. I think they need Tillie to make some shots if they’re going to make it to Minneapolis.
Defensively, we’ll see. They were dominant in the WCC, but there’s not any other great teams in the league this year. In the non-con, they gave up 103 to UNC in 84 possessions, 87 to Duke in 72 possessions, 79 to Washington in 67 possessions, 92 to Creighton in 76 possessions, and 76 to Tennessee in 68 possessions.
What I’m trying to say is the defense was not great when they were playing tournament-level teams.