Random Blogs

Picking the Upsets and Final Bracket Selections

Yesterday, I released the rankings for teams I thought were due for the deepest run. Things got off to a rough start with Vandy yesterday, but the ratings don’t judge for heart and coaching. It’s the weakness in the ratings, but definitely something I considered when filling out my bracket, as you’ll see later.

Today, I just wanted to run through who I thought was most likely to get upset in the first couple of rounds.

Who’s Getting Upset in Round One?

I don’t really consider a 10 over a 7 as an upset, even though the winning percentages of the higher seed aren’t all that different from 6/11 or 5/12 games.

Games are listed in order by who I think has the best chance to win.

6 vs. 11 Games

11 seeds win 34.7% of the time or about 1.4 per year. I believe it’s something like five years in a row that one of the 11 seeds that wins a play-in game, wins the next game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if any of these teams won.

1. Gonzaga over Seton Hall

The Zags were higher in the ratings from yesterday. I’ve heard a few people talk about being weary of Seton Hall just because they won the Big East Tournament – which they weren’t expected to do – just because Providence did it a couple of years ago and lost in the first round. The best team the Friars beat during that run was a Creighton team that lost by 30 on the first weekend. I could just as easily point out a 21-9 UConn team in 2011 that won a Big East Tournament they shouldn’t have and then won the national title.

I just don’t think conference tournaments matter. The last 14 national champions: seven have won their conference tournament, seven of them haven’t.

With that said, I think this game’s pretty much a toss-up. Whitehead has to be great if Seton Hall’s gonna do anything. I don’t think they match up well with the Zags. They keep teams off the glass and the free throw line, which the Pirates depend a lot on.

2. Northern Iowa over Texas

Like I said yesterday, Northern Iowa makes teams shoot threes and Texas isn’t good at making them. It might be the slowest game played in the tournament and I’d expect it to come down to the wire. At that point, I think it just comes down to who makes more plays between Wes Washpun and Isaiah Taylor.

3. Wichita State over Arizona

I think Arizona is clearly the best 6 seed, but I also think they’re playing the best 11 seed in the Shockers. Once again, I think it’s a one or two possession game. Turnovers could be the difference and Wichita is a heavy favorite to win that battle.

4. Michigan over Notre Dame

I don’t think Notre Dame is all that great, but Michigan’s worse.

5 vs. 12 Games

12 seeds win 35.5% of the time or about 1.4 times per year. Last year, none of them won.

1. Yale over Baylor

As I said yesterday, Baylor is only a three-point favorite in KenPom world. It’s also by far the closest game in my ratings and Yale would be favored if you discredit schedule. The Bulldogs are one of the best rebounding teams in the country and if they continue that against Baylor, that’ll take away a big part of the Bears offense. Yale’s better defensively and they don’t have a height disadvantage like you usually see between teams like these.

2. Little Rock over Purdue

I don’t really see any of these last three happening. Maybe it’s my Big Ten bias, but I also think all three of the 5 seeds are under-seeded.

The argument for Little Rock is that their Pack-line defense is going to minimize Purdue’s bigs down low. Maybe they will, but Hammons, Haas, and Swanigan are a little bigger than most of the teams the Trojans saw in the Sun Belt. They’re not only tall, but they’re large. They don’t have a lot of problems scoring even if you push them out to 8-10 feet. Also, Purdue shoots better from outside than anybody Little Rock has been playing.

The place Little Rock will probably have an advantage is point guard with Josh Hagins. Of course, that could be said for most of Purdue’s opponents this year.

3. South Dakota State over Maryland

I just don’t see an area where the Jackrabbits have a clear advantage over the Terps. I feel like Maryland’s bigs will slow down Mike Daum on the inside and he’s key to the SDSU offense.

You never know with the Terps though. There haven’t been many teams they’ve run out of the building. They have a tendency to make things harder than they have to be.

4. Chattanooga over Indiana

I just don’t see it. I guess if Indiana gets turnover crazy – which wouldn’t be the first time – that would allow the Mocs to get some easy buckets. I just think the Hoosiers have too much scoring to lose.

4 vs. 13 Games

13 seeds when 20.2% of the time or about 0.8 times per year. I don’t know if the 13 seeds will win more games, but I think more of them have a better chance at winning. I also don’t know if that makes sense.

1. Hawaii over Cal

Hawaii’s under-seeded because they didn’t beat a quality opponent, but they also only had two chances all year. They lost by 3 to Oklahoma and by 8 at Texas Tech after holding a halftime lead. They’re pretty good (61 in KenPom) and they’re cocky. There’s the incredibly weird situation with Cal just firing an assistant coach going on. It’s unclear how that will affect the players, but I think common fans underestimate how much assistant coaches do, especially at tournament time. If the Bows turn Cal over and get out in transition, they’ll have a real chance.

2. UNC Wilmington over Duke

Duke’s lowest AdjDE from 2002-2011, 2013, 2015: 36

Duke’s AdjDE during 2012: 81 (lost in first round to 15 seed Lehigh)

Duke’s AdjDE during 2014: 116 (lost in first round to 14 seed Mercer)

Duke’s AdjDE during 2016: 111

Yes, Duke was 57th at the beginning of the tournament last year before they won the title, but that team was also 29-4 and a 1 seed.

With that said, I’m not sure Wilmington’s pressing style is the one to beat the Blue Devils. Should be an entertaining game, however.

3. Iona over Iowa State

Like I said yesterday, they play the same style. I think it just comes down to whoever makes more shots.

It’s hard not to forget what happened with the Cyclones in the tournament last year. And i maintain that there’s something that’s just a little bit off with this team. You’d expect Jameel McKay to bring his best given that his next loss will be his last one in a college uniform, but you just can’t depend on him.

I’m not sure about Steve Prohm as a tournament coach yet. It’s only his second rodeo in the NCAA Tournament and a large part of that is his lack of success in conference tourneys. In his last two years at Murray State, he went into the OVC Tournament as the 1 and 2 seed and went 1-2, losing to lesser seeds both times. They just lost their first game in the Big 12 Tournament. With that said, it’s not like Tim Cluess is a proven commodity in March.

4. Stony Brook over Kentucky

Nah. I love watching Jameel Warney, but Calipari is underrated in how well he has his team ready to play in March. He’s gotten out of the first weekend in his last nine trips to the tourney. He’s got the guards to go on another run.

3 vs. 14 Games

14 seeds win 16.1% of the time or about twice every three years. It happened twice last year with UAB and Georgia State winning. Mercer beat Duke a couple of years ago.

1. Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia

Two teams that play a very similar style due to the fact that SFA’s coach, Brad Underwood, was an assistant for Bob Huggins. The only other time I remember that happening in a spot like this was Steve Masiello and his Manhattan team taking on his mentor Rick Pitino and Louisville in a 4/13 game. I’m sure it’s happened on other occasions, but the Jaspers lost a close one there.

This one’s a little different because the Jacks have been to three straight tournaments now. They won a game a couple of years ago and were (kinda) close last year. Their biggest downfall against Utah last year was going 5-26 from the outside. They also got abused by Jakob Poeltl on the inside. You never know with shooting and Devin Williams can do the same thing to them down low.

2. Fresno State over Utah

Fresno had the best rating of the 14 seed and they’ll have the best guard in the game in Marvelle Harris. They’re on a nine-game winning streak. Not many had them pegged as Mountain West champions, but here they are. They’ll definitely be able to turn Utah over with their pressure, but they’ll also probably struggle with Poeltl in the halfcourt. I’m probably not going to take the Bulldogs, but Utah’s no juggernaut.

3. Buffalo over Miami

Blake Hamilton and Lamonte Bearden will give the Canes all they can handle. I don’t know if the Bulls can really pull it off though. They’re 0-5 in Tier A games this year and they haven’t been within single digits in any of them. They weren’t even really that great in the MAC this year, but they got going at the right time. They were in the tournament last year, but that team was a lot better and lost.

4. Green Bay over Texas A&M

I just don’t think the Phoenix are going to fare well in this one. They love to get out and run and the Aggies will slow that down. They’ll struggle with Texas A&M’s length and I don’t see them competing on the glass. Green Bay was the 4 seed in the Horizon League and got on a nice roll to win their tournament, but if momentum does exist, I would imagine it fades after a 10-day break.

2 vs. 15 Games

15 seeds win 5.6% of the time. There’s been 7 wins in 31 years of the current seed format. Two of them happened in 2012: Lehigh and Norfolk State. They each had a pro. CJ McCollum for Lehigh, Kyle O’Quinn for Norfolk State.

1. Weber State over Xavier

Joel Bolomboy might actually get drafted this year and Jeremy Senglin will definitely be playing professional basketball somewhere after next year. Xavier is the weakest 2 seed in the bracket by quite a bit, according to the ratings. Hmm. I’d like it more if I didn’t believe in Chris Mack as a coach as much as I do. But if Coach K can lose a 2/15 game, no one’s exempt.

2. CSU Bakersfield over Oklahoma

No pros, but they’re in the top-100 on KenPom, which is nice. Also, for as good as Oklahoma is, Buddy’s their only guy who’s going to the NBA.

3. UNC Asheville over Villanova

Outside of Villanova’s tourney struggles, there’s not much to this one. They exited early last year, but they still at least won the opening round game by 41.

4. Middle Tennessee over Michigan State

You know why.

1 vs. 16 Games

0%. Someone might linger, but the history is the history.

1. Florida Gulf Coast over North Carolina

2. Southern over Oregon

3. Hampton over Virginia

4. Austin Peay over Kansas

Top 2 Seeds Who Are Going Home Early

In the previous piece I mentioned that at least two of the top-2 seeds have gone home in the first weekend the last five years and three of them have done that the past two years. Who are the most likely candidates?

1. Xavier

Not surprising given the previous section. I don’t think they’ll lose to Weber State, but it’s no walkover. I’m betting on Wisconsin to move past Pittsburgh to face the Muskies in the second round. That one will be a grind and I don’t really think there’s that much separation between the two for it being a 2/7 game.

2. Oregon

St. Joseph’s is a dangerous team and Bembry is about as good as anybody Oregon has. If Cincinnati wins, they might make it a grind that the Ducks don’t want. They’ve underperformed this year and those teams are always dangerous when they’re a lower seed.

3. Virginia

Butler could be a problem for Virginia. They’ll be disciplined against the Cavs and they’ve got the shooting that can be an Achilles heel for Virginia’s defense.

4. Oklahoma

I think the Sooners should have a relatively easy first weekend given their opponents, but you never know if the shots stop falling.

5. Villanova

Always gotta be leery with the Cats, but I don’t have a lot of worry about any of their matchups week one.

6. North Carolina

USC’s size on the inside could cause problems for the Heels front line. Providence is capable of a lot, but they often disappoint.

7. Kansas

You can never really count out UConn until they’re officially dead.

8. Michigan State

No.

Final Bracket(s)

If it stays relatively normal

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This is the one that I’m (most) comfortable with. I’m not going to break down every game, but I’ll explain myself on some bigger things.

I really have no idea how the West region is gonna go. None of the top teams are especially good. I’ve got Oregon in the Final Four, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they lost in round two. I also have a +8000 future on the Ducks, so maybe I’m just hopeful. I could see every scenario happening with the 5/12-4/13 pod. I just couldn’t put Oklahoma on a deep run with their dependency on shooting.

I think Kentucky will come out of the East because I think they’ll just hit a few more shots than North Carolina. I don’t like anybody on the bottom half of that bracket. Nothing would surprise me. I went back and forth on Xavier and Wisconsin.

I don’t think there’s a big difference between Virginia and Purdue, so I’m going with the 5 seed to try and gain an advantage. I think Michigan State against either of them will be a toss-up game, but the Spartans have an easier path to the Elite Eight than either of them, so they’re a better bet to advance for me.

But Kansas is the squad for me. They’ve got everything you want. If they slip up in their region, my money’s on Maryland to be the one that does it.

Shit gets crazy
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I’ve said before that this year fits the bill of a wild tournament when you look at the strength of top teams, so here’s what I’m going with in that scenario. Most likely it will be the worst rated bracket on all of Yahoo Sports. I’ll let you know how it checks out.

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Tournament Power Ratings by Region

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.

Nerds Only

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.

History

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.

South Region

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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.


 

West Region

 

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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.


East Region

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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.


Midwest Region

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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.

 

What Makes a Final Four Team?

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If you’re a college hoops junkie like myself, you spend all year watching basketball for hours nearly every night from mid-November all the way up until Selection Sunday in the middle of March. Watching every team at least twice. Scouring the country for that sleeper team in one of the mid-major conferences that’s going to make the difference.

What difference, you ask? The difference in your bracket pool of course. Whether it’s a big pot of cash or just good old-fashioned pride on the line, you want to be the smartest guy in the room.

Maybe you spend all of Sunday night through Thursday morning poring over every match-up. Fine-tuning here, tweaking there until that noon tip arrives. Or maybe you’re one of those first instinct people just going off the top of the dome.

Me? I’m a fine-tuner. I have to analyze every detail until I feel comfortable. And by the time that first tip-off happens, you can’t convince me that there’s a single flaw in my bracket. It’s perfect every year. Dream big. Shoot for the stars. Bet on yourself, man. “Warren Buffett’s gonna be so mad when he has to give you a billion dollars,” I think to myself.

And guess what? By about 2:45 P.M. EST on Thursday last year, I had already lost one of my teams in the national championship. That’s right, I had the Iowa State Cyclones in my final game. Absolutely loved their path to the championship. Paste this 14-seed UAB, take care of SMU or UCLA in the second round – didn’t really matter, neither of them were near the Cyclones’ level – and then beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 because it’s Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Basically a triple bye to the Elite 8. Sure, Duke was talented, but ISU would beat them with experience and all of a sudden I’m one win away.

But before you knew it the Cyclones were getting pounded on the boards by that pesky Blazer team that was decent on the glass, but certainly not the group of Dennis Rodmans Iowa State made them out to be. Just like that my bracket was worth more as a fire-starter than a retirement plan. So long private island. The private jet will have to wait another year.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, though,  and you can’t put a price tag on this lesson. Much like a big man trying to guard the post, you’ve got to do your work early. So that’s what I did.

As my good friend George Santayana once said, “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” If I just would’ve looked into the history of it all, I would’ve seen a couple of big flaws with my belief that Iowa State was a good bet to make the Final Four.

About that history. I wanted to know what the statistics said about the teams that did reach that third and final weekend. What common traits do they share? What areas do the most successful teams do well? Was VCU just a hidden gem in 2011 that we should’ve seen coming?

The answer to that last question is no. Of all the stats I gathered from KenPom.com dating back to 2002, VCU is the biggest outlier. They are the worst defensive team (out of 56) to make it to the Final Four and they were only better offensively than five other teams. They just got extraordinarily hot at the right time. But it was the right year for a team like that to make a run (we’ll get to that later).

I’m sure at this point you’d just like me to give you the damn data already so you can take all of your friends’ money next month. I’m not much for small talk myself. Shall we?

Common Traits

I’ll get to the overall offensive and defensive efficiency stats later (SPOILER ALERT: Final Four teams typically rank pretty high in both categories), but in this section I want to address more of the specifics. Once again, all these stats are courtesy of KenPom.

Something to keep in mind here: for practically all of the 46 areas I evaluated, you’ll find a team ranked in the top five in the country and you’ll also find at least one ranked in the high-200s or 300s. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’m just looking for the biggest trends.

One last quick note: there will be a lot of references to national rankings. For a reference point there are 351 teams currently, up from 327 in 2002, which is the first year of data.

Three-Point Shooting

The three-point shot seems to become a bigger part of basketball every year. The best team in the NBA basically lives and dies by it (they live most of the time). The leader in the clubhouse for player of the year in college – Buddy Hield – puts up 8.5 of them per game. The guy nipping at his heels down the stretch – Denzel Valentine – throws up 7.6 shots from the outside on an average day.

But while the attempts nationwide continue to increase every year, most of the teams you see playing in April are below the national average in the rate that they shoot from outside the arc compared to their total field goal attempts. Put simply: the best teams typically don’t shoot that many threes. The average rank of Final Four teams is 204th. Only 2 of the 56 have ranked in the top-10 percentile.

While teams typically shoot above average from outside, it’s not an overwhelming number. In fact, it’s much more important that teams complete a high percentage of their shots on the inside. Besides overall offensive efficiency, 2P% is the biggest indicator of success on that end, along with Effective FG%.

That’s not to say that 3P% doesn’t matter, though. There’s only been six teams that have ranked in the 200s in that category and none that have ranked in the 300s. Teams have to be a threat, but the data shows that it’s not a good sign if a team relies on the deep ball.

I’m saving my final analysis on teams for another day, but I’ll tell you right now who this section is a bad omen for: the #1 KenPom rated Villanova Wildcats. They’re 21st in 3PA/FGA and they’re 263rd in 3P%. Last year, they had a nearly identical 22nd attempt ranking, except they hit them at a much higher rate and they still lost in the second round to an 8 seed.

Oklahoma – led by Hield – launches a ton of threes as well, but they also hit the highest percentage in the country. But in their four lowest marks percentage-wise this year, three of them have resulted in losses. Much like that Nova team of a year ago, one bad shooting game and this Sooner team could be toast in the first weekend.

Duke, Indiana, and Wichita State all put them up pretty frequently, as well.

Turnovers

One of the coaches I used to work under always used to say you can typically boil the game down to two stats (OTHER THAN POINTS, WISEACRES): turnovers and the following category in this list, rebounds. His belief was that if you win the turnover and rebounding battles, you’ll win 80% of the time. Not that I needed the data to support this claim, but it turns out he’s pretty smart.

The average Final Four team ranks 78th in offensive turnover percentage. Defensively, teams are right around average (167th) in forcing them, but that still results in a net gain.

It’s not rocket science. Basketball is about possessions, especially in, say, a close tournament game.

Who might this be an issue for of the contenders? Maryland. They rank 261 in turning it over and 283 in turning their opponents over. That issue has come up in three of their five losses this year. They had 22 against North Carolina, 15 against Minnesota and 12 against Michigan. 12 may not seem like much, but it was a low possession game and the Wolverines only turned it over 8 times in a one score game. That can be the difference between a first weekend exit and a deep run.

Rebounding

Once again, another element of a game that affects the number of opportunities you have to score. Not surprisingly, the best of the best have an average rank of 66 in offensive rebounding percentage and 100 on the defensive end.

I don’t have much else to add. Good teams rebound.

There’s actually quite a few teams at the top that are pretty average rebounders, but given that there’s a little more historical emphasis on offensive rebounding, Virginia and Iowa State are the ones that stick out. Virginia at least cleans it up on defense. ISU is bad at one end and average on the other.

Defending the Perimeter

While it’s not essential to shoot the three well, history shows that it’s pretty important to defend the three well.

The worst team defending the three in the past fourteen years was actually last year’s Wisconsin team, coming in at 309th in the nation. The average is 87. It almost cost the Badgers in the second round, too. They ran in to a hot shooting Oregon team, who was an 8 seed.

Who struggles in this area? Funny enough, Oregon does. It’s a big issue for North Carolina as well.

Defending the Interior

Guess what? The battle of the paint is more important defensively, as well. Outside of the overall efficiency numbers and effective FG percentages, it’s the lowest average of any other area at 48. In fact, there have only been two teams below the national average that have made the Final Four. They were both in 2011: VCU and Butler. I’ll get in to it later, but that was the most wide open year that the data covers.

That seems like a very telling stat, so who among the top 25 or so contenders doesn’t meet the criteria? Well, Iowa State ranks 159th and Baylor is 193rd. More bad news for the Cyclones. Baylor’s on the fringe of even being a contender, but their only losses outside of the brutal Big 12 schedule were on the road to Oregon and Texas A&M. So good news, bad news for Baylor fans: you might be a contender, but this stat does not bode well for your contender status.

Not Fouling

BREAKING NEWS: Fouling is bad. Teams who don’t send their opponents to the line and allow them to get an average percentage of points on free throws fare better in basketball games.

With that said, I don’t think this has that big of an impact in the long run, but it’s certainly a factor.

Teams that have some fouling issues: Kansas, Michigan State, West Virginia (par for the course for a pressing team), Kentucky, and Wichita State.

Short Bench

This one only has data through the 2006-07 season, but I found the data over that nine years kind of surprising. You always hear the talking heads talking about teams having enough depth and if they have a lack of depth, it’s a problem. The average Final Four team over those nine years ranks 244th in bench minutes.

There have been 15 teams in those nine years that have ranked in the 300s in bench minutes while there have been only three teams who ranked in the double-digits. One of those teams was Kentucky last year, which technically doesn’t count because most teams don’t have five McDonald’s All-Americans coming off the bench.

So who’s playing too many guys? Michigan State, West Virginia, North Carolina, Wichita State, Purdue, Indiana, Texas A&M, Texas, Valparaiso, and Dayton. Uh, that’s a lot of teams! It’s hard for me to imagine all of those teams missing the Final Four, just from a sheer numbers standpoint. I mean, Izzo’s team is in there. The Final Four is his second home.

I’m not sure what you do with teams like Duke and Iowa State this year, though. At this point, they’re both going about six-deep. They both fit in with playing a shorter number of minutes with their bench, but they’re also one more injury from playing five guys.

Tempo

This one I found interesting. The data is only for the last six years, but on average teams are about average on offense at a 177 pace and below average at a mean of 239. Any team that is ranked in the double-digits on one end is significantly slower on the other. There’s only 1 out of 24 teams that have been in the double-digits for defensive pace – Wisconsin 2013-14 – and they were 342nd in offensive tempo.

It’s obviously limited by the lack of years, but it seems kind of significant, no? It makes sense if you think about how games tend to slow down in the tournament. Teams that are comfortable winning games that way are more likely to succeed.

Take last year’s national champion, Duke, for example. They played a slightly above average pace all year. They played three games all regular season that were well-below average pace and they won all three – included in those were wins over Louisville and Virginia on the road.

They proved that they could win games that way and four of their eight games in the postseason were played well-below an average pace. They won all four.

Who doesn’t fit that mold this year? Xavier. That’s about it.

How Champions Become Champions

All of this analysis has been on the Final Four teams, but what do the actual national champions do differently? Nothing really, they just do everything a little bit better, on average. They turn the ball over even less, shoot less threes, rebound even more, and defend better. The bench minutes are about the same and champions have actually played slightly faster, but they still fit the same general mold.

The most dramatic differences between the mere semifinalists and those that win it all lies on the defensive end. “Defense wins championships” isn’t just a cliche every coach wants you to believe after all. The average rank of a national champion in effective FG% on D is 22nd. The worst ranking? 70th from Duke last year.

Which brings me to another important point: all these numbers so far have come from the post-tournament data. Overall efficiency numbers are available for before the tourney, but individual pieces would take a lot more work. Most teams’ numbers don’t change all that dramatically during the five or six games they played in the bracket.

I mention that because Duke’s overall defensive efficiency did change dramatically during their run last year. Going into the tournament they were 57th and they came out of it 12th after winning the national championship. They were an above average defense that became a great one when it mattered most. Recency matters and the Blue Devils held three of their last five opponents before the tournament under 55 points.

Shot blockers have proven to be a big help, as well. The average for a champion is 46th, compared to 87th for all Final Four teams.

One-Way Teams

Now we get to the overall numbers: offensive and defensive efficiency. Think of every other area I’ve touched on as an exam score. These numbers are the final grade.

Average OffEff for Final Four teams: 20
Average OffEff for national champions: 13

Average DeffEff for Final Four teams: 24
Average DefEff for national champions: 19

Those numbers are pre-tournament numbers.

It’s no surprise that those numbers are low, but I was more interested in how many teams were elite in both categories. In order to do this, I wanted to see how many teams ranked in the top-35 heading into the tournament in both categories. I chose the 35 number because it’s the top 10% of the country.

The answer? 68% (38 of 56) ranked 35 or better on both ends. There wasn’t a major difference in champions, interestingly enough. 71% (10 of 14) fit the bill and the last two winners – Duke and UConn – did not.

So, about that other 32%. Does it pay to be elite at offense and just okay at defense or vice versa? Not really. 84% (47 of 56) were elite offensively and 80% (45 of 56) were elite defensively.

But you have to be great at one of them. Only 2 of the 56 teams have made the final weekend without meeting either criteria. Guess who? Our 2011 friends: VCU and Butler.

Another important thing to note is that no team that’s made the Final Four in these last 14 years has been below average on one end. So while teams don’t have to be great on both sides of the ball, they have to at least be passable. The data tells you that if you were thinking you just might outsmart everybody and put Notre Dame in Houston this year because they have the best offense, don’t. They’re 232nd defensively.

How Number One Teams Fare

Speaking of teams that are the best in a category, how have the data-driven #1 teams heading into the tournament done?

The most efficient offenses heading into the tournament have made 3 of the last 14 Final Fours, as have the most efficient defenses. Two of those offenses have won the title – ’09 North Carolina and ’08 Kansas – and the ’13 Louisville team is the only number one defense to win it all.

The number one rated team overall on KenPom using his Pythagorean rating has reached the last weekend six times and won it all three times.

Here’s the breakdown of all 14 of the #1s in KenPom’s ratings:

2002: Duke – lost in Sweet 16
2003: Kentucky – lost in Elite Eight
2004: Duke – lost in Final Four
2005: Illinois – lost in National Championship
2006: Duke – lost in Sweet 16
2007: North Carolina – lost in Elite Eight
2008: Kansas – won National Championship
2009: Memphis (2 seed) – lost in Sweet 16
2010: Kansas – lost in Round of 32
2011: Ohio State – lost in Sweet 16
2012: Kentucky – won National Championship
2013: Louisville – won National Championship
2014: Arizona – lost in Elite Eight
2015: Kentucky – lost in Final Four

Speaking of the Pythagorean rating, the average Final Four team is ranked at 10.5 and the winner is right around a 7. There have only been three winners outside of the top-7 – ’03 Syracuse, ’11 UConn, and ’14 UConn.

Is It Actually Wide Open This Year?

History suggests that if you’re a chalk bracket player, you’re gonna have a bad time this season.

For one, maybe the biggest narrative of this collective college basketball season has been all of the upsets happening this year and top-5 teams falling left and right. I saw a stat on ESPN the other day that we were about to break the record this year for AP top-5 ranked teams losing. The current record-holder is the 1979-80 season. The 1980 Final Four was composed of a 2 seed, 5 seed, 6 seed, and 8 seed.

Another common narrative this season is the belief that there are truly no great teams. Numbers back that up. Going back to the Pythagorean rating, there are zero teams this year with a rating of at least 0.95. Compare that to last year’s field, which had five teams that met that standard.

The average is two teams per year that meet that 0.95 mark. So I wanted to see the difference in seed totals of teams that reached the Final Four during years with a few 0.95 teams and those with one or zero. Listed below is each year and in parentheses is the number of 0.95 teams and following is the seed total of the four semifinalists. Years with one or zero teams are in bold.

2002 (2) – 1, 1, 2, 5 = 9 seed total

2003 (1) – 1, 2, 3, 3 = 9 seed total

2004 (2) – 1, 2, 2, 3 = 8 seed total

2005 (2) – 1, 1, 4, 5 = 11 seed total

2006 (0) – 2, 3, 4, 11 = 20 seed total

2007 (2) – 1, 1, 2, 2 = 6 seed total

2008 (3) – 1, 1, 1, 1 = 4 seed total

2009 (1) – 1, 1, 2, 3 = 7 seed total

2010 (2) – 1, 2, 5, 5 = 13 seed total

2011 (1) – 3, 4, 8, 11 = 26 seed total

2012 (3) – 1, 2, 2, 4 = 9 seed total

2013 (2) – 1, 4, 4, 9 = 18 seed total

2014 (2) – 1, 2, 7, 8 = 18 seed total

2015 (5) – 1, 1, 1, 7 = 10 seed total

You can see that the two biggest seed totals happened in years like this, which was also the only two years that a 1 seed didn’t make it. At the same time, ’03 and ’09 indicate that it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to be absolute chaos in the brackets. 2009 was actually a pretty chalky year overall. Every team in the Elite Eight was at least a 3 seed and there was only two teams outside of the top-4 seeds that were in the Sweet 16.

While signs seem to point to more of an open year, there are still some ways to narrow down contenders using the Pythagorean rating. 77% of teams that make the Final Four have a rating of at least 0.90. 93% have had a rating of at least 0.87. The four teams that didn’t make the 0.87 mark were ’06 George Mason, ’11 VCU, ’11 Butler, and ’13 Wichita State.

If you were to narrow this year’s field down to just the 0.87 teams, you’d have 20 to choose from. There are 22, but two of them – Louisville and SMU – are ineligible, which is another factor this year. The loss of Louisville removes another major contender from the field.

20 is on the lower side of number of teams at that 0.87 mark. The only other two years with 2 or less 0.95 teams and 20 or less 0.87 teams: 2006 and 2011. Once again, the two craziest years we’ve had in the past 14.

So, What Does This All Mean?

It means that it’s probably not in your best interest to wager heavily on too many aspects of this year’s tournament. There are a lot of indicators that things are going to get a little wonky in March.

At the same time, it’s impossible not to get in the mix with at least a couple of bracket pools. My best advice would be to rely on teams that fit the mold laid out in the “Common Traits” section and to pray (if you’re in to that kind of thing).

What teams most closely align with those “Common Traits” is a subject I’ll address in the coming weeks.

BAD BEATS CONTINUE TO MAKE ME A BALD GUY

I apologize for the aggressive all caps in the title, but holy shit, man. If you read this morning’s picks, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I can live with being wrong on a pick, like my LaTech-Ole Miss under that missed by a million points. It happens. Never gonna go 100% in gambling. But Cinmeon Brown is now a mortal enemy of Money Line Parlays. We had Mercer +6.5 and Auburn was up five when Mercer missed a jumper with three seconds to go. And what does Cinmeon do? Did he run out the clock with Mercer making no attempt to foul? No, he did this shit.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:14378109

Auburn could not have been more fired up down the stretch of that game to beat the second best team in the 21st best conference at home.

But it didn’t stop there. It will go under the radar, but Green Bay not covering the nine points against Pacific was brutal as well. They were up ten at half and basically were covering the entire second half. Until the final minute. Green Bay was up 11 at the 1:08 mark until Alec Kobre for Pacific hit four straight threes and Green Bay missed six free throws. Final: 93-88 Green Bay. Alec Kobre, Carrington Love, and Anthony Brown are also all now mortal enemies of Money Line Parlays.

Also, don’t think you’re off the hook, UCLA. Even Louisiana Tech blew out Louisiana-Lafayette. And you, Celtics. Up six at half and managed a whopping 31 points in the second half.

If you can’t tell it was a horrible day at 2-5-1. Gambling on sports is the worst.

More picks tomorrow.

 

Former Virginia Tech Safety Davon Morgan Thinks Women Have Too Much Estrogen To Referee Football

Here we go…let’s break this thing down tweet-by-tweet.

Strong hypothesis, let’s dig a little deeper.

I wonder if Davon knows not every male official has played the game.

Gonna have to take his word for this one.

HERE WE GO!!! Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve never had a menstrual cycle and can’t claim to know the ins and outs of how that goes down. I’m listening…

Davon losing a little credibility through this whole thing due to his inability to understand the plural form of “woman”.

Okay, we’re back on track.

If I’m picking up Davon’s analogy here, pretty sure all the macho football men are gonna start eating these lady refs pretty soon.

If Davon has a degree, the NCAA has to start an investigation immediately into Virginia Tech for some of those UNC paper classes.

“As a former college coach…” Fixed it for you, D.

Thought we were on a sexist rant, D-Morgs letting you know we’re talkin’ science here.

Yeah, ladies, D-Morgs loves all woman.

He lost me again.

He would eat the lady ref. That’s what he’s saying. Pitbull and poodle shit.

#MyOpinion is the new “all due respect”.

The big question: is our boy Davon wrong? He had some solid points with the estrogen and the testosterone and what not. Sure he had some confusing analogies, but I think the point stands.

FFS, stand for something, man.

Jags Will Rock All Gold Unis This Weekend And They’re As Bad As You’d Expect

Just screams 3-13. Feels like the NFL is doing these #ColorRush games just to distract from terrible football. Jets-Bills and now Titans-Jags.

That’s a real loose definition of the color gold. Looks more to me like shiny vomit. Blake Bortles and his handsome face don’t deserve this. #FreeBortles