In case you missed it a few weeks ago, I did some data research using figures from KenPom to figure out if there’s a better way to project the Final Four besides the traditional seeding numbers, power rankings, or the ever-subjective “eye test”.
Since I wrote that, I’ve expanded on the research and developed a rating system specifically geared towards tournament success. I’m no mathematician or statistician by trade, but I do have some experience and I used teams from years past to lend the rating system some credibility.
If you’d like to know a little about the intricacies of the system itself, you can read the next couple of sections. If you don’t give a shit and just want to see the rankings, just keep scrolling.
I’ll have more tomorrow on upsets, trends, and bracket selections tomorrow.
I developed the rating system around those ranking averages I referenced numerous times in the previous piece, and then factored in the volatility to account for the consistency component.
For example, the least volatile factor of Final Four teams is their Pythagorean rating. Schedule strength and the efficiencies on both ends of the floor are both up there as well. The most volatile is team experience. The average experience for Final Four teams is basically the national average and there’s been a fairly equal number of teams that have a lot of seniors and those that have a lot of freshmen. It basically doesn’t matter at all. Therefore, it carries the smallest amount of weight in the ratings. Pythagorean rating carries the most.
There is no subjectivity or opinion inserted into the rankings. I just do the math using what’s worked in the past and weight the system accordingly.
There ended up being four ratings. One factors in every element, one does the same only excludes schedule, one consists only of the eight elements that carry the most weight, and the last one consists of those eight plus the schedule.
Obviously teams ratings are likely to go up if they play well in the tournament against good teams and the majority of the data comes from post-tournament statistics. However, you’re able to to find the Pythagorean Rating and offensive and defensive efficiency scores pre-tournament on KenPom and those three make by far the biggest impact besides schedule. That’s the reason I evaluated teams scores without schedule as a factor as well. The strength of schedule is bound to go up on a run in March, so the schedule-less ratings allow you to see how well teams do things regardless of competition.
If you’re interested in the eight biggest indicators of success:
- Pythagorean Rating
- Offensive and Defensive Efficiency
- Effective Field Goal % on offense and defense
- Turnover % on offense
- 2P% on offense and defense
One quick note: a lot has been made of the 3PA/FGA mark and I even expanded on that last time. Essentially the argument is that teams that shoot a lot of threes don’t do well. But on further research, it shows that it really doesn’t carry that much weight. Teams were still punished in the ratings if they shoot a lot of threes, but the impact was pretty minimal.
I’m not going to bore you with all the math or the specific numbers of every component for every team as it relates to the ratings, but for a reference point I’ll provide a few examples.
The best team over the past 14 years was the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats. They had a score of 3,342. They were followed closely by the ’08 Kansas team with a 3,216.
The worst team to ever win the championship (in the 14 years of data) was ’14 UConn with a -1,636. It’s the only team to ever win the championship in the negatives, besides ’11 UConn, which was only at a -20. The average champion has a 1,359.
As far as teams that make the Final Four, 33 of the 56 that have made the final weekend have had a positive score. 46 of 56 have at least been within 1,500 points of an even score. While the average of Final Four teams is a zero (as it should be, I think?), the median is 450.
If you look at the ten teams that weren’t within 1,500 of the zero line, it’s pretty interesting to break each of them down.
- Three of the ten were coached by Tom Izzo. If you want to make the case that he’s the best coach in the game, that’s an incredible stat to reference.
- Villanova in ’09. They were a 3 seed and went on a run where they smacked two good teams in UCLA and Duke before scratching one out over Pittsburgh. That Duke team won the title the next year. Their score was pretty low because they didn’t do anything exceptionally well, but they also didn’t have any major holes
- Louisville in ’12. Their offense was horrible. They are by far the least efficient offense to make the Final Four since 2002. But they were also the most efficient defense that year. Michigan State was the only team that was close that year and the two played each other. The Cards also were on a roll heading into the tournament, winning the Big East Tourney after going 10-8 in the regular season.
- ’06 George Mason was actually pretty good, but their schedule strength crushed them in the ratings. If you took away the SOS components, they would’ve been a -256, which would put them 11th in this year’s ratings.
- I guess you can chalk up the two Butlers to Brad Stevens.
- As for Wichita in 2013, Baker and Van Vleet played really well as freshmen and we see now what they’ve turned into. They also benefited from playing two programs that tend to fail during tourney time – Pitt and Gonzaga – on the opening weekend. Then they played 13 seed La Salle in the Sweet 16. But then they beat Ohio State and they were up as much as 20 in that game. I think it was just a case of a team realizing what it was capable of that first weekend and going from there. And of course the next year they started off 35-0.
- VCU in 2011 remains the craziest, inexplicable run. They went nuts.
Now that’s a rundown of those that did make it, but do the ratings expose higher seeded teams that fail? Yes, to an extent.
I looked at teams that were 1 or 2 seeds that lost during the first weekend the past five years. There have been 12 of them, with at least two each year and three in the past two seasons. Nine of them had a negative rating. Three of them stick out like a sore thumb: Wichita ’14 (although that was heavily schedule induced), Georgetown ’13, and Missouri ’12. If you put that Mizzou team in this year’s rankings, they’d be 32nd and it’s a pretty weak year.
The three that weren’t in the negatives? Nova and Virginia last year and Pittsburgh in 2011. Nova last year lends credence to the “you can’t jack a bunch of threes” argument, which while I think is overplayed a bit, still does hold some weight. While they didn’t shoot great against NC State in their loss last year, they weren’t terrible (6% below their average) and isn’t the number that really jumps out. Their problem was how ineffective they were in the paint – they shot 30% on 2FG, 23% below their average – that game and allowed the Pack to rebound 39% of their misses, which was 8% more than Nova typically allowed. That’s where matchups come in to play.
As for Virginia, they ran in to Izzo and Michigan State, who was significantly better than the 7 seed they were given.
Pittsburgh in 2011 was a really solid team, but they just didn’t have a lot of talent. Teams with pros always seem to do well and the best players on that team were Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. When’s the last time you heard their names? Also, they lost to Butler. Brad Stevens vs. Jamie Dixon in March just isn’t fair.
Anyway, enough with the past. Let’s get to what to expect the next few weeks.
Rankings by Region
All rankings are based on the rating system.
17. Austin Peay (16)
If you take Peay to win any games, urine trouble.
16. UNC Asheville (15)
The Bulldogs are pretty poor offensively, but they do a couple of things really well on defense. Defending the three has proved to be really important, and they’re second in the country, holding teams to 28.8%. That’s pretty key if you’re playing Villanova. They’re also top-10 nationally in turning teams over.
15. Buffalo (14)
The Bulls are above-average on both ends of the floor, but not by much either way. They’re pretty solid across the board, but they don’t do anything especially well. If they can’t get to the line, they’re going to struggle.
14. Hawaii (13)
I feel like I’ve seen a ton of people taking the Bows to take out Cal. Ignoring the matchup, at their core Hawaii loves to generate offense out of turnovers they create on defense. Their downfall is that they foul too much. It almost cost them their bid to the tournament in the Big West Championship when their two best guys – Roderick Bobbitt and Stefan Jankovic – both had to set most of the first half because of foul trouble. Intangible-wise, they’re a really confident, bordering on cocky, group. They won’t have any fear as a 13 seed. Back in November, they about took out Oklahoma. Dangerous team.
13. South Dakota State (12)
The Jackrabbits are a really good team on the glass, but we’ll see if that holds up against some of the horses on Maryland. They’re not going to wow you with athleticism, but they can shoot the ball and get to the line. They play four seniors a lot of minutes, but their best player is actually freshman big man Mike Daum, who comes off the bench and is basically instant offense.
12. Temple (10)
Temple’s offense leaves quite a bit to be desired, but they’ve started to shoot the ball a lot better from the outside. The most beneficial thing they have going on that end is how well they take care of the ball. Not wasting possessions is a big deal in a tournament setting and if they happen to get hot, they’re pretty tough to beat. Look no further than when they handed SMU their first loss. They went 14-29 from beyond the arc and only turned it over on 14% of their possessions. They can really guard and force teams to settle for jumpers, but they’re not going to force turnovers either.
11. Colorado (8)
They’re an elite rebounding team, and it’s a good thing because they’re atrocious at finishing around the rim. That’s a bad trait to have against UConn, but the Huskies aren’t a good rebounding team, so that should be an interesting dynamic. The Buffs aren’t going to win many turnover battles, but defensively they’re really good. But the biggest concern with this team is probably the fact that they’re just a completely different team away from Boulder. They were 16-1 at home and 6-10 anywhere else.
10. Wichita State (11)
The biggest think working against the Shockers in the ratings is their schedule. They’re 12th in the KenPom rankings and they have the most efficient defense in the country. If you’ve watched them play much this year and possibly had them to cover any large spreads, then I don’t need to tell you how stagnant their offense can become.
They’ll go long stretches where they just shoot a ton of jumpers, which is bad because they’re not really that good at shooting. They take care of the ball, but they don’t give themselves a bunch of second chances. Northern Iowa locked them down twice this year because the Panthers just made them shoot and Wichita couldn’t make nearly enough of them. Obviously they’re not new to the tournament and a great defense can keep you in any game, but their offense isn’t close to the level it’s been in recent years. They were much better in conference play, but the MVC also isn’t what it’s been in recent years.
9. Connecticut (9)
The program that has complete disregard for the rating system. I feel like I shouldn’t even talk about them because it’s all meaningless. I feel like Kansas will take care of them if Colorado doesn’t, anyway.
8. Arizona (6)
I like the Cats better than my own ratings, but here we are. A lot of that is schedule because their non-conference was Pittsburgh/Louisville levels. In fact, if you took schedule completely out of it, they’d be top rated team in the region and second in the whole field.
But you can’t completely disregard the schedule, especially when you consider the fact that they were 19-1 against non-tourney teams and 6-7 against those in the field (1-4 against teams above an 8 seed).
They’re a highly effective offense when they don’t turn the ball over. They can score it inside and out and they get a lot of offensive rebounds. They’re pretty good defensively overall. The problem is they also don’t create turnovers and the ratings hate them because of their tempo on that end. It’s not a huge cause for concern, though.
7. California (4)
Their strength lies on the defensive end and nobody’s better at protecting the rim. They simply don’t let you shoot threes out of your offense. Their physicality can be a grind on the opponent, but they also send teams to the line often.
Offensively, they shoot pretty good percentages from the field, but they turn it over a lot and they’re terrible at the free throw line. A recent concern is the play of Jaylen Brown. He’s a high usage guy that went 4-23 from the field in their two Pac-12 tournament games.
In a situation I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, Cal was just forced to fire one of their assistant coaches on Monday. Really tough to project how that will affect the team.
6. Iowa (7)
Tough to like a team that finished 2-6. They can be explosive offensively, but their 2FG% is atrocious for a team at their level. They’ll win turnover battles, but lose on the glass against good teams. They’re pretty poor defending inside when teams get it in there. They showed how good they can be in January, but it seems like they’ve reverted back to the team many expected them to be before the year.
5. Maryland (5)
I sold my stock on Maryland about a month before it was cool to do so in mid-February. The thing that’s confused me the most all year was the mainstream media pushing their supposed depth. Their starting five is talented, but their bench consists of a three-point specialist that shot 26% from three in B1G play and a big guy that averaged 1.5 FGA per game. WHAT DEPTH!
Now, obviously they’re still a pretty good team. They’re just not the top five team they were supposed to be or thought to be for months. They shoot really well from the floor when they give themselves a chance, but they turn the ball over so damn much. They’re good defensively, but they’re not a good rebounding team, especially for all their size.
The X-factor with this team is if Melo Trimble snaps out of his funk all of a sudden and goes on some Kemba/Bazz/Burke/Steph type tear. He’s capable, but he hasn’t had the year he was hoping for.
4. Villanova (2)
Ah, the ratings tell you to fade Nova in March as well. They’ll probably make the second weekend this year because of who they’ll play, but who knows after that.
They rate in the top-11 in both efficiencies, but there are a couple things that really hurt them in the ratings.
One, they’re a really poor rebounding team. And the second, for some reason the A/FGM ratio on defense is really important apparently. Final Four teams consistently rank highly and Nova comes in at 292nd in the country. There have been a couple teams that have been that low that made the final weekend, though. One of them was Villanova in 2009.
3. Vanderbilt (11)
Yeah, I know. I checked for miscalculations. Nope.
The Dores are four-point dogs to even get out of the play-in game.
But they also don’t have any fatal flaws defensively. The biggest negative on that side is that they don’t get steals, but that hasn’t proven to be a necessity. Big advantages in their favor on that side are how low opposing teams shooting percentages are. Also, that A/FGM number.
Their biggest weakness is by far their rebounding, which is kind of ridiculous given how much size they have. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a ratings darling from the SEC be forced to win the 11 seed play-in game and then go on a run to the second weekend. Tennessee did it in 2014. The teams numbers aren’t all that similar but Tennessee was 21-12 with an 11-7 SEC record and Vandy is 19-13 with an 11-7 SEC record and both teams’ coaches played for Purdue. Tell me you’re not at least thinking about it now. You can’t.
2. Miami (3)
Miami might be Pittsburgh in 2011 (detailed in the History section in case you skipped it) type of team. Actually, maybe they’re just Miami in 2013. An experienced team with good college players that can win a lot of games, but they’re not going to go very far come tournament time.
But the ratings do like them a lot (fourth overall) and there’s nobody they can’t beat on their half of the region. Their interior is the weak spot. They don’t defend the rim as well as you would hope for their level and they don’t rebound. Tonye Jekiri and Kamari Murphy do both things pretty well, but they have no depth behind them and any foul trouble on those two is a cause for concern.
Their guards are a big asset, though, and they don’t beat themselves. They have no holes offensively besides rebounding.
1. Kansas (1)
The best team in the field by 200+ points. If you pull out the eight most important components, they’re the best team in that as well and their rating essentially doesn’t change in number. They check every box – efficiency numbers, trends, Pythagorean rating – that you look for. They disappointed last year, but they weren’t at the same level as this team.
If you’re looking for a weakness, it’s turnovers on offense and sending teams to the line on defense. With that makeup, the exact team to beat them should be West Virginia. And the Mountaineers did in Morgantown back in January. They shot an absurd 47 free throws. But Kansas just played them on a neutral floor, turned the ball over 20 times, committed 23 fouls, and still won by 10.
17. Holy Cross (16)
They’ll be lucky to beat Southern.
16. Southern (16)
They’ll probably be the first 16 to win because I have a +8000 ticket for Oregon to win it all.
15. CSU Bakersfield (15)
If you discredited schedule strength, they’d rate higher than Oregon State and Temple. That’s something. They probably don’t have the offense to keep up with Oklahoma, but they defend the three pretty well and that’s not a bad place to start against the Sooners.
14. Green Bay (14)
The Phoenix love to get out and run, which will be interesting against Texas A&M. For a team that plays up-tempo, they do an especially good job of taking care of the rock. Their downfall will more likely be defensively, where they struggle to defend the paint.
13. UNC Wilmington (13)
On a non-fact based assertion, I always feel like CAA teams are a tough out going back to the VCU days. Last year, as a 14 seed Northeastern gave Notre Dame all they could handle on the Irish’s way to the Elite 8. It’s a bear of a league to win and Wilmington won the regular season and the tournament. It rates as the 9th toughest conference in the nation on KenPom, the highest its been in the site’s 15-years of existence.
The Seahawks problem is that they aren’t very good defensively and that’s a bad thing to be when you play the 2015-16 version of the Duke Blue Devils. The good news is that they might be able to keep up with Duke. They scored 90+ on eight different occasions this season. They’re only six-point dogs on KenPom’s projections. Just saying.
12. Yale (12)
I don’t really know what you do with Yale post-Jack Montague. They went 7-1 without him, but their one loss was the only quality opponent they played. Turnovers are their biggest issue and Baylor will exploit that in the first round. Otherwise, they’re actually really solid. Another “take away the schedule and they’d rate four or five sports higher” team. If they take care of the ball, they’ll have a really good chance to pull the upset and you’ll see why soon. Only three-point KenPom dogs.
11. VCU (10)
Their AdjDE is 22nd, but they get crushed for their 2P% on D. That’s a key component for predicted success and it basically doubles its weight because it has such a big impact on EFG%. And it triples its weight, if you’re bad at it on the other end of the floor, which is true of VCU. The good news for the Rams in regard to their first round matchup with Oregon State? They’re a lot worse at both.
10. Northern Iowa (11)
Apparently this is just the region that can’t defend the paint, but the Panthers actually are trending up in that area, improving that number quite a bit in MVC play. They force teams to shoot a lot of threes with their zone, which could be interesting against a Texas team that doesn’t shoot it well. They don’t foul and they don’t turn it over.
Probably the oddest thing about this team is that they’re the worst offensive rebounding team in the country, but they’re in the top 20% in defensive rebounding. Texas gives up a ton of offensive boards, so in my mind there’s a distinct possibility that Northern Iowa will miss a shot and nobody will grab it. The ball will just sit on the floor as the clock runs out.
I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between teams finishing conference games strong and playing well in the tournament, but after the Panthers started 10-11, they rattled off 12 of their last 13.
9. Oregon State (7)
See VCU above. The only reason the Beavs are ranked higher is because they played a Pac-12 schedule, but they’re metric underdogs.
8. Baylor (5)
Why so low? They’re pretty bad defensively for a 5 seed and they turn the ball over a ton. Their EFG% on defense is 230th. No team that’s made the Final Four has ever been worse than 174th. Guess who? Our old friend VCU from 2011.
I just don’t consider them a real threat to make it out of the region.
7. St. Joseph’s (8)
Interior defense. Poor. Rinse and repeat.
They do turn defend the three well though and they don’t send teams to the line. Basically their defensive statistical footprint is almost identical to Northern Iowa.
DeAndre’ Bembry is obviously the focal point of the offense. He’d be even better if he didn’t shoot like three three-pointers a game, even though he only hits 25%. As a team, they take care of the ball as well as anyone and are really effective if they can get into the paint. That could be tough against…
6. Cincinnati (9)
The Bearcats. They muck it up in the middle, but they’re susceptible if you can shoot. They’re like the opposite of Northern Iowa in terms of rebounding. They’re really active on offense, but they give up a bunch on defense.
Their offense is a mess. Those offensive rebounds are probably the only reason they’re not below average. It’s an eyesore to watch them score.
5. Texas (6)
Man, this region is kind of a drag. Another team that’s not very good at scoring, but they don’t give away possessions.
There’s not a lot to say about their defense. They’re solid, they make teams work, but they’re not especially great at anything. They block shots, but that doesn’t carry much weight.
I will say this about the Horns: they survived a brutal league schedule and they might blossom now that they’re out of the league. They were good enough to beat North Carolina earlier this year. But so was their first round opponent. And if they win, they’ll probably play Texas A&M, who they already played. If they win that, they’ll probably play…Oklahoma. So much for that theory.
4. Duke (4)
Obviously they’re pretty piss poor defensively. That’s not great for winning in March, but it’s pretty entertaining to watch. Their offense is awesome. It’s not a hard team to figure out. If they get in to foul trouble, they’re kind of screwed with their lack of depth, but that doesn’t happen too much.
I will say that last year the Blue Devils were 57th in AdjDE before the tournament started. After they went on a run and won the title, they were 12th. That type of dramatic jump doesn’t often happen and this isn’t the same team at all, but it’s still Coach K.
3. Texas A&M (3)
After losing five of six in the middle of SEC play, the Aggies won eight straight before losing to Kentucky in overtime of the SEC championship game.
They have a lot of length and get after people defensively. It’s tough to get easy buckets on them unless a team gets second chances, which does happen often against this team, especially when they’re in zone. They’ll give it right back on the other end, so it kind of evens out. They’re not the most efficient shooters, but they don’t make a lot of careless turnovers that give teams easy run outs.
2. Oregon (1)
The Ducks are the only one seed in the negatives. They’re just not a great defensive team. Teams shoot really well from the outside against them and that causes their EFG% to be well below your typical Final Four team. They do block a ton of shots – well, Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell do – and they do force teams in to turnovers.
Their offense is able to overcome a lot of their defensive ineffectiveness. Casey Benson’s the only guy who plays major minutes that doesn’t score much, but he’s not a total liability. They have four guys who are capable of dominating a game offensively, which makes them an incredibly difficult team to guard, especially because they don’t turn it over much.
The potential matchups with Oregon and Baylor or Duke in the Sweet 16 and Oklahoma in the Elite 8 would be highly entertaining.
1. Oklahoma (2)
They’re the team that’s really scary to invest in to win in the tournament. They have such a high dependency on making threes, they’re ineffective in the paint, and they turn the ball over. Then again they won their Big 12 tournament game where they shot 4-21 from outside and lost when they shot 11-21. 21 turnovers on 66 possessions would be the reason for the loss to West Virginia though. Guess who turns people over and defends the three pretty well? Bakersfield.
Defensively, they’re really solid. They give up too many offensive rebounds and teams hit a lot of threes against them, but they don’t give up many easy buckets and they won’t send you to the line very often.
The Sooners being in the top spot here speaks to how wide open the West might be, in my opinion. If a region goes sideways, I think it’ll be this one.
18. Fairleigh Dickinson (16)
Congratulations to them on making the tournament.
17. Florida Gulf Coast (16)
Same. FGCU is the highest rated 16 seed, so extra congrats.
16. Weber State (15)
Weber does a lot of things really well, but they’re close the the worst in the country at others. The best team they’ve played all year is BYU, who they lost to by only five on a neutral floor. They split with South Dakota State. I don’t think they’ll beat Xavier, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close.
15. Stephen F. Austin (14)
The Jacks get crushed for their schedule, but metrics tell you they’re a lot better than a typical 14 seed. They’d be a lot higher in these ratings if not for the schedule. They’re basically West Virginia-lite, who they happen to be playing in round one. The difference is, this team can light it up from the outside.
They got destroyed by Baylor in the first game of the season and didn’t have a quality win at any point this year. They’ve been a 12 seed the past couple years. Two years ago they beat the 5 seed VCU and last year they were in it most of the way with Utah. It should be a wild game with the Mountaineers.
14. Chattanooga (12)
The Mocs are solid, but I’m not sure they have the horses to keep up in round one against Indiana. They defend the three well, which is a good start. They can get abused on the inside though. Whether IU takes advantage with Thomas Bryant or not is a toss up because they ignore him a lot. Justin Tuoyo will block some shots, but he can’t do it alone.
Offensively, they turn it over too much and they don’t shoot great percentages, but they’re really effective when they’re getting to the free throw line. The best way they can combat Bryant on the other end is if they get him in foul trouble while he’s defending.
13. Stony Brook (13)
The Jameel Warney show. It’s going to be interesting to see him go up against Kentucky’s front line in round one. The Cats aren’t what they used to be in that department, but they still have about five guys to throw at Warney if they want. The Seawolves aren’t totally one-dimensional though. They’ve got a couple guys who shoot over 40% from outside. That’ll be important to stretch out the Kentucky defense.
Defensively they’re pretty solid, but they’re susceptible to good shooters and that’ll be a problem against Jamal Murray, Derek Willis, and Tyler Ulis.
But they can rebound with the best of them. If Kentucky isn’t hitting from outside, Stony Brook has a chance to get to round two.
12. Tulsa (11)
The team that’s inexplicably in. They’ll win a lot of turnover battles, but not many rebounding ones. They get to the line, but don’t shoot it well there. They can’t shoot threes and they can’t defend threes. They score well in the paint and they also defend it well.
11. Michigan (11)
Michigan gets abused on the inside and is generally just pretty poor at defending people. They can score with the best of them though. They’re a team that’s capable of getting hot and winning a couple of games.
10. Providence (9)
I swear the Friars are the most talked about mediocre team in the country. I guess LSU probably holds that title, but the point remains. Kris Dunn is much more consistently effective on defense than offense. He’s at his best offensively when he’s distributing and making plays for others and not jacking 17 shots. Ben Bentil’s an absolute force, but the team as a whole is kind of a mess offensively. They shoot too many threes for how poor they are at making them. They’re solid defensively, until teams get inside.
9. Pittsburgh (10)
Ugh. They rebound well and they hit their free throws. They aren’t good defensively, but they don’t give teams second chances.
8. Indiana (5)
Definitely a bit of a surprise that they’re this low. There’s two major reasons for that. One, teams shoot a high percentage against them. And two, they turn the ball over a lot.
The Hoosiers can really shoot it, however, and they get a ton of offensive rebounds. If they’re hitting, they can make it to the second weekend or possibly even the Final Four. Big “if” in the tournament though.
7. Wisconsin (7)
Grind-it-out Wisconsin is back. Their offense is not pretty, but they have started shooting it from outside better. The biggest knocks against them are their 2P%, which is well below average, and opponents’ 3P%. That’s also well below average, but it’s kind of minimized by the fact that teams just don’t get off many threes against them. It’s gonna be an ugly one against Pitt.
6. West Virginia (3)
The reason for this ranking is mainly due to their style, although not completely. There aren’t a ton of pressing teams that have gone on deep runs, but Louisville won the championship in 2013 that way. Because of that, there’s not a ton of value in creating turnovers, which the Mountaineers are very good at.
Where they’re different from that Louisville team and what hurts them so much is that they send teams to the line more than anyone else in the country and they turn the ball over a lot themselves. Also, the Cards didn’t give up a higher percentage on 2FGs. West Virginia does. Their overall AdjDE is 6th in the country though.
They are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, but they can’t shoot.
It’s a hard team to figure out.
5. Notre Dame (6)
They’re horrible defensively and as good as their offense can be, they’ve slipped recently. Demetrius Jackson hasn’t really been the same player since he was injured in late January.
If they get past Michigan or Tulsa, it could be a pretty interesting game against West Virginia. They’re a top-10 team in taking care of the ball and shoot a high percentage at the line. They don’t get there a lot typically, but the Mountaineers will take care of that. Rebounding will be a problem, however.
4. USC (8)
The ratings hate the region and that’s really the biggest reason the Trojans are this high. There isn’t that big of a gap between them and Indiana.
Things in their advantage: They shoot the three well and defend it well. They don’t turn it over, they don’t foul a lot, and they’re big.
The biggest knocks against them are their inefficiencies inside the paint and how many offensive rebounds they give up.
3. Xavier (2)
The Muskies are a distant third, due to their interior defense and that they play a fast pace that typically doesn’t play come tourney time.
They’re a great rebounding team that makes up for their so-so shooting percentages by getting to the free throw line. If they force you to shoot jump shots – which they often do – they’re a really tough out.
Given the matchups, I don’t really see anyone beating them in the first weekend.
2. Kentucky (4)
The Wildcats are really solid across the board, except for two areas. They give up too many offensive rebounds and their frontcourt guys foul a ton.
Outside of that, they make it really difficult to score and they’ve got the most efficient offense in the country. Their only weakness at that end is shooting free throws. Otherwise, there’s not a major hole.
The cause for concern if they see Indiana in the second round would definitely be the Hoosiers getting second chance opportunities.
1. North Carolina (1)
The Heels have two holes: three-point shooting and defending three-point shooting. They give up too many offensive boards, but they’re better at getting their own. They don’t turn it over and they own people in the paint. They didn’t lose to anyone outside the KenPom top-40 when Marcus Paige was playing.
16. Hampton (16)
Their coach is funny. Unfortunately, funny doesn’t help you score against Virginia.
15. Middle Tennessee State (15)
Your top-rated 15 seed by a pretty good margin. Congratulations you get to play Michigan State in March. They shoot really well, which might keep them in the mix for a while.
14. Fresno State (14)
Also, the top rated 14 seed, but that’s mainly due to scheduling. They’re not great defending the paint, which is a bit of an issue when you play Jakob Poeltl. The best attribute they have on offense is that they don’t turn it over, which doesn’t really lead to points, but it’s something. Nothing about them wows you, but they also did just win nine straight in the Mountain West. Obviously the league is down, but still. I’d be kind of surprised if they weren’t at least within single digits of Utah.
13. Iona (13)
They can’t guard, but they can score. They shoot really well, but they don’t give themselves a lot of second chance opportunities. They’re basically the same team as Iowa State, just shorter and less talented. I don’t think the talent gap is that large though. AJ English is one of the best pure scorers in the country and Jordan Washington is instant offense inside.
12. Arkansas Little Rock (12)
You’ll hear a lot about their Pack-line defense, if you haven’t already. It’s designed to keep people out of the paint and that’ll be their opponent’s (Purdue) focus. And the Trojans are a great defensive team overall. I’ll get more into the matchup in the Upset Watch discussion tomorrow, but I’d be a little weary of all that.
Offensively, they’re another good shooting team and they don’t turn it over. Where they don’t help themselves is getting to the line or grabbing their own misses.
11. Dayton (7)
The Flyers can really guard, but it can be like pulling teeth for them to score. I’m sure it’ll be a close game with Syracuse, but neither of those teams is beating Michigan State.
10. Butler (9)
Brad Stevens ain’t walking through that door, which is apparent from this team’s defense. They’ve always been a defense first program, but this team – which was 7th in AdjDE a year ago – is 131st now. Chris Holtmann’s a good coach in his own right, but this team’s defensive struggles are kind of baffling.
They can shoot it, but it’s not what they rely on, which is actually a good way to be successful this month. They take care of the ball, as well. They can definitely win game one, but I don’t think they have the juice to beat Virginia.
9. Syracuse (10)
Essentially every Cuse game turns into a three-point shooting contest. They turn it over too much and they don’t score much inside. They’re not a big threat.
8. Texas Tech (8)
The biggest benefit to Tech’s score was their schedule, so I guess if you’re taking them you’re just hoping they’ll be a better team now that they’re out of the Big 12. Other than that, the best thing do is get free throw attempts and make them. They’re good enough to beat Butler, but not much else.
7. Seton Hall (6)
The Pirates obviously finished the season strong, winning the Big East Tournament and 12 of their last 14 games. They’re really good defensively, but they’ve got some holes offensively. They don’t shoot a high percentage from anywhere and they turn it over a bunch. They get a lot of offensive rebounds, but they also give up a lot. I’m not sure riding the hot hand is the right play in this scenario, given that the opening line had them as an underdog in round one.
6. Gonzaga (11)
And the Zags would be the favorite in Vegas and the favorite in the ratings. The difference between the two would be huge if not for the Zags softer schedule. They don’t have any major holes anywhere and their shooting percentages both ways are among some of the best in the country. Their biggest weakness is that while they play solid defense, they don’t do much to totally disrupt their opponents. They don’t turn people over and they don’t block shots.
5. Iowa State (4)
I don’t know what it is about the Cyclones, but they just don’t seem to have it. Maybe it’s their lack of pros or the fact they don’t have much bench help at all, or maybe it’s just because they can’t guard people. They can’t defend inside, which if they end up playing Purdue in the second round, is gonna be a real problem. They’re not much better on the perimeter. They’re a prolific offensive team, but they still don’t rebound. Rebounding was their undoing last year against UAB.
4. Utah (3)
The Utes are a distant fourth here. I’m gassed, so let’s keep it quick.
Good: defensive shooting percentages, 3P% and EFG% on O, Jakob Poeltl
Bad: Rebounding, lack of turnovers on D, scoring in the paint
3. Purdue (5)
Both Purdue and Michigan State are hurt by their schedules. The bottom of the Big Ten being a dumpster fire certainly didn’t help. If you just look at the eight most important numbers – schedule not included – the Boilers would be fourth behind Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina.
Their really one and only weak spot is turnovers. As someone who’s watched most of their games, it’s not just that they turn it over, but it’s the type of turnover. They have a lot of throwaways that their opponents take back for easy buckets.
But they own the paint and the glass. Their strength is obviously the three big behemoths they have down low. Their guards aren’t world-beaters, but they’ve all kind of settled into their roles nicely and they’re hitting a high percentage of outside shots. They’re about as good as anybody when that happens.
2. Michigan State (2)
They’ll obviously be a very popular pick to win it all. They check every major box defensively. Once again, they’d be the top rated in this region, if not for their schedule. But they definitely haven’t just beaten up on soft opponents. Like Purdue, they can also be pretty careless with the ball. They also don’t shoot a lot of free throws, but they’re the top shooting team from three in the country.
1. Virginia (1)
The Cavs are 4th in AdjDE in the country. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many. But when you look at the details, they’re defensive shooting percentages are as poor as they’ve been since 2011 when they didn’t make the tournament. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely noteworthy. If you go back and look at their losses, quite a few of them involved teams hitting a high percentage of threes.
This is the best offensive team Tony Bennett has had though. They can score it in and out. They’re not an outstanding rebounding team, but it’s nothing too detrimental.