Until we get the actual brackets on Sunday night it is entertaining to look at the daily updates to ESPN’s Bracketology. This has been an up and down year with no clear cut season long favorite outside of Kansas. That means that the final four will not be comprised of the very best four teams but the four teams that were in the right bracket with the right matchups.
I will break down which sleepers “should” have the best chance of making a run along with which favorites will and will not join them.
Joe Lunardi usually comes extremely close to predicting the seeds of teams, the only thing usually off in his bracket is where teams are placed. We will follow his seeds according to the updated Bracketology but not necessarily where the team is placed.
For sleepers I am looking at teams seeded 3-6. Anything outside of that range is either a favorite(1s and 2s) or will have to beat someone too good too soon(7 and up).
In the current Bracketology here are the following 3-6 seeds.
3s: Villanova, Pittsburgh, New Mexico, Michigan State
4s: Wisconsin, Baylor, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
5s: Temple, BYU, Georgetown, Texas A&M
6s: Xavier, Maryland, Butler, Richmond
Now we widdle down the list above.
First I will take out any team that would be considered “over-seeded” by more than 1 seed according to the Pomeroy Ratings. Teams that are over-seeded usually do not fair well. The Pomeroy ratings look at teams on a per possession basis, they are the most accurate of any numbers based rating system. Teams can climb higher, but teams that should be seeded much lower than they are rarely make runs. This takes out:
- Michigan State: They should be a 5 or 6 at best due to a #23 rating.
- Pittsburgh: They should be a 6 or 7 at best due to a #27 rating.
- New Mexico: They should be in the 8/9 game, maybe a 7 with a #40 rating.
- Tennessee: They should be a 7 at best with a #28 rating.
- Vanderbilt: They should be a 7/8 seed with a #32 rating.
- Richmond: They should be happy with any single digit seed with a #46 rating
Now we look at taking the ten remaining teams and see if they are good enough offensively. They say defense wins championships, and that may be true, but in the NCAA tourney you need a top ten offense to have any shot at the title and at least a top 20-30 offense to make a legit final four run. Due to a low rated offense we can take out:
- Butler: 55th in offensive efficiency
- Temple: 92nd in offensive efficiency
- Texas A&M: 39th in offensive efficiency
We are now left with 7 teams, Villanova, Wisconsin, Baylor, BYU, Georgetown, Xavier and Maryland.
Defense is not a hard and fast indicator of a final four candidate. You do not need to be a top 10 defense if you are a top offense but you do need to be decent. Last year Pittsburgh had an elite offense with a defense rated 35th, that was their downfall. We will now take out any team who has a defense rated below 30 who does not have a top 10 offense or teams with a defense that is just not good enough
- Xavier: 15th rated offense, 42nd defense
- Georgetown: 19th rated offense, 35th defense.
- Villanova: 56th rated defense, not good enough.
We are now left with Wisconsin, Baylor, BYU and Maryland. We will leave these four in as my main sleepers.
1s and 2s
To go along with these four here are the 1 and 2 seeds that I think will be contender/pretenders
1s: Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse
2s: Ohio State, Purdue, West Virginia, Kansas State.
- Kansas State: Rated 22nd on offense, 21stof defense. Good but not a great team, how will they handle being a target if they are a 2 seed. They would also be slightly overseeded.
- Purdue: 38thin offensive efficiency, even with Hummel they are not a legit contender, without him they should be happy with a Sweet 16.
By taking out those two we are left with 10 teams, these are the 10 teams I feel have a legit shot at a final four and I group them into sections.
These are the top teams that can make the final four. These teams will all get #1 seeds and are all rated in the top 10 in offense and defense:
- Kansas: A favorite for a reason, they will be a 1 seed and are rated 2nd and 5th in offense/defense.
- Duke: Also will be a 1 seed, rated 1st and 3rd.
These are teams that have the numbers necessary to make it but will have a tougher road than the teams above due to a tougher seed or they are close in efficiency ratings but have a slight flaw.
- Wisconsin: You may not believe it but the Badgers have the 3rd best statistical resume with a 9th and 8th rating in offense/defense. If the Badgers can get into a 2 seed they will have a very good shot at a final four. The problem with a 3, 4, or 5 seed will be the fact they will need to play a tougher 2ndround matchup. The more tough games you are forced to play the better the odds that your opponent will get hot. It only takes a relatively small stretch of hot three-point shooting to knock anyone out.
- Syracuse: A very good team, rated 10th and 16th in offensive and defensive efficiency. They depend a little too much on turnovers and they give up some offensive rebounds due to the 2-3 zone. On offense they can be a machine. If they run into a team that takes care of the ball and slows them down things will get interesting.
- Kentucky: Kentucky has the NBA talent, but they got overrated this season by beating Uconn, North Carolina and Indiana. All three wins looked good at the time, but this team is rated 21st and 14th in offensive and defensive efficiency. An offensive efficiency of 21 would really scare me of them if they run into one of the highly efficient offenses. You need to score to win and that is what knocked out Memphis last year, a hot Missouri team.
These teams are right there with the first second group but may have slightly lower ratings and/or will not get the favorable seeds.
- Ohio State: They have a star in Evan Turner, are rated 12th and 22nd in efficiency. If they get a two seed they could have a very good shot at the final four. I like their ratings better than Kentucky but the road for a 2 or 3 seed is so much tougher than a 1 seed, which are the seeds that Ohio State and Kentucky are projected to receive.
- West Virginia: The Mountaineers finally got a big win last week against Villanova, they are rated 7th and 28th in offense and defense ratings.
Wisconsin was already placed in the second group due to their great ratings, it will really come down to the seed and placement for the Badgers. They need to avoid really good three point teams that do not rely on turnovers. Here are the other three sleepers.
- Baylor: Extremely dangerous team, rated 6th offense 48thdefense. That defensive rating is low, but it is respectable in the effective FG% and rebounding categories. They are lower in the turnover% which I feel is less important in the tourney since teams take better care of the ball. Long story short, their defense is better for the tourney and their offense places them in the extremely dangerous zone for any 1 seed that may have to face them in the Sweet 16. This is the exact team Kentucky would want nothing to deal with.
- BYU: They have solid ratings at 11th and 15th but their pace is too high for my liking as they have the 12thhighest tempo in the country. It is fine to have a high tempo, but you better have the athletes. Do you really think BYU can go athlete for athlete with Syracuse, Kentucky or Kansas? They would get run out of the arena against any athletic team. Combine that with the fact BYU has no great wins and I have my doubts with them. BYU will need a perfect storm to really make a run, which may include the top teams in their region getting knocked off by someone else.
- Maryland: The Terps are tricky. They have a 5th rated offense, but 38th in defense. Their defense has a good effective FG% meaning they force you to miss shots, but their rebounding % is horrible, they are ranked 312 in the category. They would be in trouble against any team that hits the glass. I see this team as a potential elite eight team but no real threat to make it all the way to the final four without involving a crazy region.
Here are two of the four. Kansas and Duke are safe bets to get there, they have the players, the coaching, will get the 1 seeds, and have the statistical data to back them up.
The next two will be up for grabs and I rank them like this:
- Ohio State
- West Virginia
It will really depend on which 1 seeds get stuck with Wisconsin, Ohio State or Baylor. For instance, Kentucky could get stuck with a 4/5 seeded Baylor in the Sweet 16, then have to play Ohio State in the Elite 8. I do not think any team in the country is good enough this season to take on two of these top ten teams before the final four.
Having said that, I would not be shocked if the committee loads a region with four of these ten teams, turning that region into a super region. It happens every year.