Welcome to the first installment of the 2019 Overvalued, Undervalued, or Properly Valued series.
If you’re new this year, this is all based on taking the current odds to win the national title of likely tournament teams and comparing them to the what will now be known as the Final Four Index (FFI). Here’s a little background.
I can’t remember much of what I wrote in that post, but TL;DR: the premise is ranking teams based on their similarities to the most successful tournament teams (those that reach the Final Four). The tournament is a different animal and the FFI measures teams in a tournament context and less so on a game-to-game basis like most analytical measures do.
There have been some major overhauls since the original creation of the FFI. The first version was based on where teams ranked nationally in each category (from 1 to 353), but now they’re based on actual percentages, efficiency numbers, etc.
Also, I reduced the time frame greatly of Final Four teams I used to build the weighting system. It just didn’t make sense to use data from 15, 10, or even five years ago anymore. And really there’s one reason. Three-pointers.
It used to be that if you relied too heavily on threes, it was essentially a given that you couldn’t win the national championship. That’s no longer the case. Nationwide, everyone is relying on threes more and more. KenPom measures how teams get their points (3s, 2s, FTs) and breaks them each down into a percentage. Here’s the progression of the national average of three-point distribution percentage:
It no longer makes much sense to knock teams for relying on threes. The national average last year for three-point distribution was 31.4% and the Final Four teams three-point distribution numbers last year were 40.2%, 37%, 35.6%, and 30.4%. Three well above average and one slightly below.
For this first installment, I took the 46 teams seeded 1-11 in the current BracketMatrix and evaluated them. There are seven teams included in the “Irrelevant” section that have equal or better odds than our 46th rated team.
1. Duke +200 (FFI: 2)
It’s hard to ever find value on Duke and especially not when they have a Beatles-level lineup, but they’ve earned it. It’s interesting to watch their odds because they’ll suffer as a team without Tre Jones. But whenever Jones returns, their stock immediately goes up.
2. Gonzaga +600 (FFI: 4)
Both of their losses are forgivable, but if you’re thinking about a national championship, those were two of their three opportunities to prove they can beat other contenders. They beat Duke in Maui, but watching that game, it felt like the Zags were merely surviving their inexperienced opponent early in their season. Killian Tillie is back and will help the suspect defense, but I’m still not sold on this Gonzaga team being a legitimate contender.
T3. Virginia +650 (FFI: 3)
I’ll certainly understand any skepticism around the Cavs when it comes to March. Unfortunately, they’ve earned that badge with the loss to UMBC. But they’re one of the nation’s best and that’s all that should really matter. Programs are bad in the tournament until they’re not, as evidenced by Villanova’s recent success.
5. Tennessee +850 (FFI: 6)
Tennessee is a great team, but I still find myself questioning if they can really be a contender against the other great teams. They’re not the most versatile offensive team and in a shot-making generation, they don’t make a lot of difficult perimeter shots.
T8. North Carolina +2500 (FFI: 10)
It’s your typical UNC team with some minor differences. One thing this team does better than many of Roy’s teams have done in the past is rebound on the defensive end. They pretty much always attack the glass well on the offensive end, but they’ve done a great job of limiting second chance opportunities for the opponent.
A lot rests on the shoulders of freshman PG Coby White. White’s been much more efficient as the season has gone along, but does have the occasional stinker. He’s much better than Joel Berry was at making plays for others, but the cost of that has been more turnovers.
T12. Purdue +5000 (FFI: 15)
The Boilers are one team that greatly benefited from the changes in the ranking formula because they love to launch from three. They’ve grown a lot in the past month, but we’ll see if they can improve enough defensively to be more than a team with a Sweet 16 ceiling.
T18. Buffalo +6500 (FFI: 21)
Buffalo is a legitimate team with tournament experience and one of the oldest rosters in the country. They’ve won a ton of games away from home this year, with quite a few coming against quality-ish opponents. They’re a threat to make the Final Four, but not enough to beat multiple elite teams and win the whole thing.
T23. Iowa +10000 (FFI: 23)
Iowa’s a good team that can’t be great because they can’t defend a half-decent offense.
T23. LSU +10000 (FFI: 28)
LSU is a team with similar issues to the Hawkeyes. They do have Tre Waters, though, and he has the potential to carry the Tigers further than the rest of the team might deserve. Tough to tell how good this team really is when the best team they’ve beat is Ole Miss (it was on the road) and the best team they’ve even played is Houston.
T23. TCU +10000 (FFI: 17)
They’ve had injuries and transfers all over the place. They’re a good team on both ends, but it’s hard to see them doing much without the services of Jaylen Fisher.
T30. Cincinnati +12500 (FFI: 36)
Speaking of teams whose best win is Ole Miss. A solid team, but they’ve played a terrible schedule.
T30. Louisville +12500 (FFI: 25)
The Cardinals are only getting better because Chris Mack is their coach and that’s what Chris Mack does. Jordan Nwora has gone from occasional contributor last year to one of the best players in the ACC. I could definitely see the Cards rising up the ranking list as the season progresses. They’re improving defensively and one of the things they’re getting docked heavily for right now is their bench minute numbers. But that number appears to be decreasing as Mack starts to sharpen the rotation.
T30. NC State +12500 (FFI: 35)
The Wolfpack seem to be everyone’s go-to team when discussing the merits of the NET ranking system. My take? They’re fine. They’re a tournament-caliber team that’ll probably lose to a 1 or 2 seed the first weekend and it’ll be fine. Stop getting so upset about NC State, internet.
T34. Ole Miss +15000 (FFI: 29)
Kermit Davis is a wizard to get them to this level already, but they’re still far from a legitimate threat to make a deep run.
T34. Washington +15000 (FFI: 31)
I loathe the Pac-12, but at least the Huskies are the best of a terrible bunch. Doesn’t mean they’re good, though. Best win outside of league play is…San Diego.
T39. Arizona St +20000 (FFI: 45)
The Devils have at least beat a couple teams outside of league play, but they’ve also lost to Princeton and Utah at home and got lit up by Vanderbilt.
T39. UCF +20000 (FFI: 34)
I’m not a bracketologist, but I don’t understand why the Knights are in the tournament right now. Their schedule is weak and their landmark victory to this point is a home win over Alabama and their three losses are all to mediocre-to-bad teams.
T39. St. John’s +20000 (FFI: 41)
The offense can be pretty good with a collection of versatile scoring options with a strong top two of Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron. But the trade-off of playing such a small lineup is that the Johnnies are a terrible rebounding team and don’t have any rim protectors.
43. Minnesota +25000 (FFI: 38)
I’ve watched a lot of Minnesota games. Sometimes they’re awesome. Sometimes they’re atrocious.
44. Ohio State +27500 (FFI: 33)
The Buckeyes are on a nosedive right now and need to get things corrected quickly.
T45. Butler +30000 (FFI: 40)
The Bulldogs might be the biggest roller coaster in college basketball.
T45. Saint Louis +30000 (FFI: 46)
The Billies got Dion Wiley back just in time to lose Carte’Are Gordon. The defense is elite. The offense is horrendous.
T52. Seton Hall +40000 (FFI: 37)
Seton Hall is in that perfect Seton Hall range where they are perfectly mediocre.
T3. Michigan +650 (FFI: 7)
The Wolverines looked unbeatable back in November, but have certainly dropped off a little bit since then. (Note: that sentence was written before they dominated IU in Bloomington) Their schedule is heavily back-loaded and if the past couple years are any indication, that’s a good thing for John Beilein. Michigan has peaked in March recently.
The statistical makeup of the team is nearly identical to last year’s squad that made the championship, despite some big personnel changes. The major exception is that this is only one of two Beilein teams that doesn’t shoot a ton of threes. The only other team that didn’t was back in 2013 when they also went to the national championship game.
7. Kentucky +1500 (FFI: 13)
I gotta say I disagree with the rankings here. The Wildcats are really starting to come along. The obvious flaw is that in this new age of three-point shooting, the Cats lack shooters.
T8. Kansas +2500 (FFI: 11)
It’s hard for me to picture the Jayhawks winning it all. With the loss of Doke for good, they lose their elite rim protector. Now they’re forced to play more four-guard lineups. It’s worked for them in the past, but it worked because their offense could spread other teams out and they could start their own personal three-point parade. That’s not the case with this team.
T12. Virginia Tech +5000 (FFI: 19)
Unfortunately, Chris Clarke is officially out for the season and that puts a lower ceiling on the season. The Hokies can score with the best of them and their backcourt is as good as almost any in the country. On the other end, however, they continue to be lit up like a Christmas tree from the perimeter. That’s a tough way to win big in this era of basketball.
T20. Houston +7500 (FFI: 32)
Kelvin Sampson has done a hell of a job to be 19-1 after losing his two best players from a year ago. They get crushed in the ratings for a soft schedule so far, but they’ve performed well when they’ve played better teams, so take it for what it’s worth. You’d think that they would struggle when they played teams with more size, but they did beat Oregon when Bol Bol was still playing.
T23. Florida State +10000 (FFI: 39)
I’m kind of afraid to say anything about the Noles because they played like this in the ACC last year and then made the Elite 8. I’m just saying it’s usually a good idea to bet against Leonard Hamilton in the tournament.
T23. Kansas State +10000 (FFI: 44)
This is kind of a tough one to gauge because their data set is corrupted from the Dean Wade absence for six games. They dropped from 24 to 50 in KenPom during that stretch and have climbed back to 36 in his four game return. That four game stretch has been road wins at Iowa State and Oklahoma and home wins against TCU and Texas Tech. So, yeah, Wade’s important. I’m confident in saying the Cats will move up the FFI.
T34. Arizona +15000 (FFI: 43)
Their offense is terrible. The end.
T20. Maryland +7500 (FFI: 12)
The Terps play a ton of young guys, but they’re really talented and experienced PG Anthony Cowan runs the show. Usually young teams struggle on the road, but they’ve blown out three Big Ten foes in their own building. They never had a chance at Michigan State, but few ever do. They’re an intriguing team that doesn’t have many holes.
T23. Mississippi State +10000 (FFI: 14)
The Bulldogs haven’t played well since SEC play started. However, if experienced guards are something you might be interested in, MSU has them in bulk and some rim protectors to boot.
T30. Oklahoma +12500 (FFI: 16)
Lon Kruger’s gotten his defense back from the Buddy Hield years, but the offense is far from it. The Sooners lack efficient scorers.
T34. Indiana +15000 (FFI: 22)
I had something somewhat positive written, but had to edit after the debacle against Michigan. Their season is in a tailspin right now and every time you expect them to bounce back and fight to get things corrected, they just fall further.
T39. Texas +20000 (FFI: 20)
The defense is good, but they still manage to lose a lot of games. They showed they were capable of beating a really good team away from home when they beat UNC, but we haven’t really seen that since then.
T8. Nevada +2500 (FFI: 24)
I wouldn’t count them out, but the biggest difference between this year and last is perimeter shooting. They miss shooters Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke to work off of the Martin twins. Jazz Johnson has filled in some of that hole, but Corey Henson has been streaky and Nisre Zouzoua has been a dud after shooting 36% from three at Bryant. And they still miss Lindsey Drew. Drew was out for the NCAA Tournament last year, but not having his ability to set people up is noticeable and pretty much just leaves Cody Martin to do all of that work.
That’s the negative side. But, they’re still 19-1 and in the Top 25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency.
11. Texas Tech +4000 (FFI: 18)
I don’t care how good your defense is, if you can’t score, you can’t win it all.
T12. Auburn +5000 (FFI: 26)
The Tigers need Austin Wiley back, but he won’t solve all of their defensive problems. The Tiger defense is heavily reliant on getting steals and blocking shots, otherwise they’re pretty poor. That’s proven to be an unsuccessful formula in the NCAA Tournament when you pretty much only play teams with good guards.
T12. Villanova +5000 (FFI: 30)
The rankings are based on season stats and that’s why you see Villanova at #30 after a poor non-conference showing (for them). They’ve turned it up in Big East play, but they still have some defensive issues.
T16. Marquette +5500 (FFI: 27)
The Golden Eagles have been all offense the past couple years, but that might actually be their issue right now. They can still shoot it great, but the lack of efficiency and production around the bucket leaves a little to be desired.
T16. Syracuse +5500 (FFI: 42)
Well, Boeheim’s worst teams seem to do the best in March, so maybe that’s the reason for the price.
6. Michigan State +1000 (FFI: 1)
I kept trying to tell people last year over and over that the Spartans were overvalued and that turned out to be true when they beat 14 seed Bucknell by four and then lost to 11 seed Syracuse in the second round.
But this team is the one to bet on right now in all of college basketball. 10-1 and they might be the best team in the country. They’ve gone 7-0 without 15 PPG scorer Josh Langford and that includes four wins over Top 30 KenPom teams, two of those four on the road. That’s the difference between this year’s team and last. They consistently deliver outside of East Lansing.
T18. Iowa State +6500 (FFI: 9)
The Cyclones still aren’t fully healthy, but they fit the mold of being Top 25 on both ends of the floor. The glaring hole for this team is that they don’t rebound well, but they do lessen some of that damage by consistently winning the turnover battle.
They lack star power, but I can’t imagine trying to gameplan against their offense. It’s like porn if your bag is versatility. And that versatility extends to their defense. They don’t play their biggest guys a ton, but they still manage to do a pretty good job of protecting the rim.
22. Wisconsin +8000 (FFI: 8)
The Badgers went through a tough five game stretch to start January, but responded by beating Michigan. Nate Reuvers is quietly becoming another big scoring threat for the offense. If they have three consistent scorers outside of Ethan Happ, you’re looking at a Top 20, Top 15 type of offense to pair with their Top 10 defense.
T23. Nebraska +10000 (FFI: 5)
If you were just judging starting fives, Nebraska is certainly worthy of Top 15 consideration. The problem is that they don’t have – or don’t use – a sixth or seventh man. The offense hasn’t suffered much, but the defense has been declining in performance as the season goes on. A shorter rotation is better in March, but this might be too short.
38. Florida +17500
Analytically good, but they should try winning more games.
T45. Clemson +30000
The offense is one of the worst in the ACC.
T45. Georgetown +30000
The Hoyas lean way too heavily on their freshmen. It’s a good core if Patrick Ewing keeps them together, but this year is not their year.
T45. Murray State +30000
Ja Morant is phenomenal, but the Racers haven’t beat anybody noteworthy. Just making the field solely depends upon the OVC tournament.
T45. Oregon +30000
They’d be a lot more interesting with Bol Bol, obviously.
T52. Alabama +40000
This is Avery Johnson’s best offense he’s had in Tuscaloosa. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still just an average offense.
T52. Baylor +40000
I’d enjoy another Makai Mason tournament moment, but the Bears struggle to score if they don’t get second chances. They’re capable of beating some good teams, but they’re going to have to prove it on the road if they want to make the dance.