Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (31-2, 17-1 ACC). Oh, how far Virginia has come. After beginning the season outside of both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25, the Cavaliers have won a school-record 31 games en route to the the #1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. In the process, they posted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark in the KenPom era and didn’t allow a single opponent to break 70 points. This is also Tony Bennett’s second-most efficient offensive team since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, thanks in large part to sharpshooter Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG, 39.5% 3FG). The notion that Virginia would be overwhelmed by Kentucky or Arizona’s athleticism seems particularly far-fetched considering that the Cavaliers beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handled North Carolina twice this season. The idea that a stout defensive club like Cincinnati or Tennessee would out-grind the ACC champs seems equally questionable. Virginia is the South Region favorite, and there’s no really no argument otherwise.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers are the best bet to reach San Antonio. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Should They Falter: #2 Cincinnati (30-4, 16-2 AAC). Were it not for Virginia, Cincinnati’s defense would have probably received a lot more national recognition this season. The Bearcats held opponents to just over 0.86 points per possession, a mark which — not adjusting for competition — hasn’t been topped since 2008-09 Memphis. Mick Cronin’s team is tough in every sense of the word, just as willing to pound the offensive glass (third nationally in Offensive Rebounding rate) as it is to grind opponents down on the other end. In senior Gary Clarke (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), Cincinnati has a player who manages to serve as both its star and its “glue guy,” the type of scrappy weapon you want on your team when the game’s on the line in March. The Bearcats don’t have many great wins this season, but fresh off of beating Wichita State on the road and winning the AAC title, Cronin’s team looks primed for a deep March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Creighton (21-11, 10-8 Big East). While the seeding was fairly well done in this region, Creighton’s landing spot at #8 came as quite the surprise. Most bracketologists had pegged the Bluejays as a #9 or #10 seed, with some placing them as low as a #11. Its home win over Villanova notwithstanding, Creighton finished just 1-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season and failed to win a single road game against teams that finished above .500. Then again, perhaps the Bluejays actually got a raw deal when you consider that instead of a possible Second Round matchup against #2 Cincinnati, they’ll have to face Virginia.

Criminally Underseeded: #13 Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC). According to BracketMatrix.com, the vast majority of projections had atabbed Buffalo as a #12 seed (average: 12.08). Instead, the 26-win Bulls were given a #13 seed and tasked with handling future #1-overall NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton way out in Boise. And if you think seeding at this level doesn’t matter, consider this: Historically, #12 seeds have a 35.6 percent chance of advancing to the Second Round compared with just 19.7 percent for #13 seeds.

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RTC Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 12th, 2018

Today and tomorrow we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates over the next two weeks (@RTCWestRegion).


Favorite: North Carolina, #2, 25-10. At first glance, this is a wide open region with no dominant team. The Tar Heels are the highest rated KenPom team in this group at #7, but they are just one of six teams in the region that fall between #7 and #17 in that metric. In other words, this region is anybody’s ballgame. What sets Roy Williams‘ squad apart from the rest of the contenders fighting to come out of the Staples Center is the level and quality of the experience on this team. All five players who average double figures in scoring (Luke Maye, Joel Berry, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson) are upperclassmen, and three of the four saw significant action in last year’s National Championship run. In March, offense wins championships, and this Tar Heels team is an elite offensive squad with the experience and savvy to make a return trip to the sport’s final weekend.

Roy Williams’ Team is the Favorite Here, Whether He Likes It or Not (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: Michigan, #3, 28-7. If you’re looking for a hot hand to ride, look no further than the Wolverines. Since an ugly road loss to Northwestern in early February, John Beilein‘s squad has reeled off nine straight wins, including an impressive one-two punch in the last two games of the Big Ten Tournament to earn the automatic bid. Balanced scoring and an uncharacteristically stingy defense are the hallmarks of this group, but Michigan is highlighted by veterans who take care of the ball, can knock down the three and do all the little things on defense. However, beware of the team’s week-plus layoff after an early Big Ten Tournament along with a slow pace which could allow lesser teams to stick around deep into the game.

Grossly Overseeded: Xavier, #1, 28-5. Sorry Musketeers fans. It’s bad enough that we made it through those first two bullet points without mentioning the #1 seed in this region, but to have them show up here must seem like adding insult to injury. Nothing against Chris Mack‘s clearly talented and accomplished club, but some team has to go in this spot and Xavier doesn’t possess the traditional metrics of a top seed. For instance, try digging through KenPom‘s historical rankings to find another #1 seed ranked as low as Xavier defensively (59th) and you’ll find that Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy in 2005 were the most recent distinction — and that tourney didn’t exactly end well for Washington (lost to Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen). That’s not to disparage this squad. Trevon Blueitt is among the best players in the nation. J.P. Macura is an elite college basketball villain (depending on who you root for). And Mack has lined up his next wave of program leaders with the likes of Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall. But no one would be surprised to see the Musketeers suffer an early exit either.

Criminally Underseeded: Houston, #6, 26-7. It’s hard to get too worked up about a seven-loss AAC team only getting a #6 seed with blemishes like Drexel, Tulane and Memphis on its resume. But Kelvin Sampson‘s Cougars are a tough, balanced and veteran team. They feature five upperclassmen in their rotation, defend like crazy and have a fearless trio of guards – Armoni Brooks, Corey Davis and Rob Gray – who can get hot from three at any moment — each player has hit at least five threes in a game on multiple occasions this season. A #6 seed is probably an appropriate seed for Houston, but you can bet Michigan isn’t in love with seeing the Cougars as a potential first-weekend opponent.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2018

Today and tomorrow we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates over the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (30-4, 14-4 Big East). Sound familiar? Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as a #1 or #2 seed for the fifth straight season, a remarkable run that has included great success (see: 2016 National Championship) and bitter disappointment, with the Wildcats failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, 2015 and 2017. This year, expect something closer to the former. While less defensively stout than in recent seasons, Villanova boasts the second-most efficient offense in the KenPom era behind only Wisconsin in 2014-15. Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG) might be the most reliable late-game scorer in college basketball, while 6’7″ wing Mikal Bridges (18 PPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG) — a projected lottery pick — is among the sport’s premier two-way players. Jay Wright’s club may not be deep, but its 7-to-8 man rotation is cohesive and often blisteringly lethal. A potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with West Virginia could present some challenges, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats stumbling until a possible Elite Eight game with Purdue.

Villanova Adds Some More Hardware to Its Trophy Case (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #2 Purdue (28-6, 15-3 Big Ten). As recently as early February, Purdue ranked among the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while arguably looking like the best team in America. Then it lost three games in a row, battled injury concerns and looked prone to fatigue. Lucky for the Boilermakers, this year’s early Big Ten Tournament means they will have had a full 11 days of rest by the time they tip off against Cal State Fullerton on Friday. That bodes well for an offense — the country’s second-most efficient behind Villanova —predicated on lights-out three-point shooting (42% 3FG) and pounding it underneath to 7’2″ center Isaac Haas (14.9 PPG). The extra rest should also help Purdue’s struggling defense clamp down more like it did for the first three months of the season. Between the match-up problems Haas and guard Carsen Edwards (18.5 PPG) present in addition to a manageable bottom half of the bracket, Matt Painter’s group is the next best bet after the Wildcats.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC). There was nothing too egregious in the East Region, but it’s still hard to look at Alabama’s 15 (15!) losses and sub-.500 conference record and feel good about the Crimson Tide as a #9 seed. On Thursday, they were one Collin Sexton missed-layup away from the NIT. Two SEC Tournament wins later — albeit against quality opponents — and they are seeded higher than a Butler team that’s been an NCAA Tournament lock for weeks (with wins over Villanova and Ohio State to boot).

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