Examining Elite Eight Profiles: Who Looks Poised to Go Deep Into March?

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on January 8th, 2016

As conference play heats up, the identities of teams become increasingly apparent. As we invariably figure those teams out, we also start thinking about which teams are poised to make a run in March. To take a deeper view of postseason success, we looked at the KenPom statistical profile of five years of Elite Eight teams (perhaps a little arbitrary, but it’s hard to sneak into the national quarterfinals without being actually good) and compared it with this year’s teams that currently fit that profile. In the past five years, Elite Eight teams have ranked an average of 18th in offensive efficiency and 31st in defensive efficiency. Offense is clearly more important, as only two teams in the last three seasons have managed to crack the quarterfinals from outside of the offensive top 40 (both of which, coincidentally, were Louisville). The table belows shows the 10 teams this season that fit the Elite Eight profile as of January 8.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 11.56.33 AM

If your favorite team is not on the above list, it appears that it still needs work. Let’s examine some of those missing teams, many of which are highly-ranked.

Teams that Must Improve Defensively

Purdue. The Boilermakers’ dream season has taken a couple of recent hits in losses to Butler and Iowa. What should worry Matt Painter, though, is that during the four-game stretch that included wins over Vanderbilt and Wisconsin in addition to those two losses, Purdue never posted an offensive efficiency that was above the Division I average. The team ranks first in defensive efficiency but is only 41st on the other end of the floor. Rick Pitino’s recent Louisville teams have shown that it is possible to advance in the NCAA Tournament on the strength of defense alone, but it’s generally easier to get there by finding greater balance with the offense.

South Carolina. The Gamecocks are the nation’s lone NCAA Tournament-eligible team with a perfect record. Like any Frank Martin club, South Carolina guards with reckless abandon, as its 15th-ranked defense attests. But an offense that ranks 46th nationally needs to get better. As a further data point, the only time Martin ever made the Elite Eight was with a Kansas State team that ranked 14th nationally in offensive efficiency featuring Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. If he wants to get back with this year’s Gamecocks, they need to find easier ways to score.

Don’t Even Think About It, You Can’t Guard Anyone

Jamie Dixon (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon’s Defense Will Be His Team’s Downfall This March (US Presswire)

Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is flying high right now, and don’t expect that to change soon with a favorable ACC schedule through January. But the reality is that the Panthers are not even close to good enough on the defensive end of the floor, and that is what will torpedo them in March. Pitt currently ranks a paltry 151st in defensive efficiency, which means it should probably forget about the NCAA’s second weekend. In fact, only six team in the last five NCAA Tournaments received at-large bids with such a low defensive efficiency rating. Jamie Dixon’s club needs to improve its defense drastically to have any realistic shot at succeeding in the postseason.

Butler/Notre Dame. It seemed pertinent to combine these two teams, as Butler ranks fifth in offense and 185th in defense while Notre Dame ranks third in offense and 188th in defense. The last team to miss out on the NCAA Tournament while ranked among the top five in offensive efficiency was Mike Brey’s 2006 Notre Dame team, in fact, so neither club should worry too much about a complete collapse. But their average defenses will surely lead to average March performances. Recent history tells us that a team needs at minimum a top 100 defense to make a deep run in March. These two clubs are currently miles away from that benchmark.

Offenses So Good That Defense Might Not Matter

He Often Finds a Way (AP)

He Often Finds a Way (AP)

Duke/North Carolina. Again, the combination seemed pertinent here, as Duke currently ranks first in offense and 60th in defense, and North Carolina is second in offense and 65th in defense. As recent history has shown, offense can carry teams fairly deep into March so long as its corresponding defense is adequate. These two rivals can bank on that split to this point. In last season’s NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame (second in offense, 102nd in defense) and Wisconsin (first in offense, 54th in defense) clearly exhibited the value of elite offenses, and in each of the two years before that, John Beilein’s Michigan teams made deep runs with top-ranked offenses and above-average defenses. So while Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski will seek to tighten up their defenses over the next two months to become truly elite teams, they can rest assured that their offenses will give them a great chance to make a run regardless.

William Ezekowitz (25 Posts)


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One response to “Examining Elite Eight Profiles: Who Looks Poised to Go Deep Into March?”

  1. MF says:

    What about West Virginia?

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