MEN's NCAA Tournament Breakdown - By The Numbers
The words “madness” and “normal” hardly belong in the same sentence. So … so what?
March Madness is back to normal.
After an unprecedented COVID cancellation two years ago and last year’s bubblicious NCAA Tournament confined to greater Indianapolis, the 2022 tourney is back to its regular format with eight regional sites and teams happily jetting around the country.
Your Veteran Scribe has been deeply invested in college basketball and the NCAA Tournament for four decades. That time frame includes writing about 343 tourney games, 26 Final Fours, projecting the field incorrectly at least 20 times and failing miserably in a few bracket pool.
(Best bracket pool story: The winner of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newsroom pool in 1985 was an intern who picked Villanova to win it all because she liked the sound of the name.)
YVS’ vast knowledge and experience, coupled with the wisdom of age is useless when making predictions of which four teams will make it to New Orleans or which team will stand on the court having “One Shining Moment.”
Joining in this uncertainty is none other than the “Bilastrator” himself, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who said on his weekly ESPN podcast: “I don't remember going into a tournament and saying ‘I don't know’ as much as this year.”
Observation: This bracket is far more volatile because this season has been Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Super seniors, the transfer portal and COVID pauses in late December erased what little natural order there is in the sport.
Analysis: The well-worn phrase “there are lies, damn lies and statistics” can be adopted for use in March Madness. There are lies, damned lies, statistics, and analytics.
Computerized algorithms have evolved to range far beyond field-goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio. They can provide evidence that won’t necessarily lead to a conviction of a prediction, but it can provide insight.
Ken Pomeroy’s Advanced Analysis of College Basketball provides statistical analysis even YHS, barely escaped high school Algebra I, can comprehend. Kenpom.com also offers a yearly subscription that fits a retiree’s budget, so there’s that. If you’re a Hoop Head, this is a full — and uncompensated — endorsement.
His website ranks teams in adjusted efficiency margin, adjusted tempo, luck, strength of schedule, adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency based on points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions.
Kenpom.com tracks stats back to 2002 and, studying the past 19 national champions, offers some clues about what might happen over the next three weeks. The statistical sampling focused on how those 19 ranked in Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency.
Seven of the 19 champions finished in single digits combining the offensive and defensive rankings. Four teams finished No. 1 offensively - 2018 Villanova, 2010 Duke, 2009 North Carolina, and 2007 Florida. Two were ranked No. 1 defensively – 2013 Louisville and 2008 Kansas.
The team with the worst defensive ranking out of the 19 champions won the title last year as Baylor finished No. 22. The worst offensive ranked team was 2014 Connecticut (39th). Who can forget the brick laying and rim clanging in Houston that year?
The 19 previous champions averaged 6.7 in offensive efficiency and 9.1 in defensive efficiency. Defense might win championships, but scoring is a bit more important. Adding the 19 champs’ offensive/defensive ranks for a YVS total, the average is 15.8. Keep those numbers in mind.
Through 5,837 games as of Sunday, here’s how the top 12-seeded teams measure up on Kenpom.com compared to the past 19 champions. Like tips from your stock advisor, past performance is no guarantee of future results. (Offense, defends, total – rank in offensive and defensive efficiency and the total.)
No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga Off. 1, Def. 2, Total 8; Arizona Off. 5, Def. 20, Total 25; Baylor Off. 9, Def. 13, Total 23; Kansas Off. 6, Def. 29, Total 23.
Comments: For the second consecutive season, Gonzaga enters the tourney as the top seed and the No. 1 team in the final Associated Press poll. Kiss of death? Since expanding to 64 teams in 1985, the AP No. 1 has won the title just four times and just once in the last 20 years (Kentucky in 2012). The other three No. 1 seeds all fall outside the average total of 19 previous champs. Defending champion Baylor, despite an injury-depleted roster, is closest to previous champs.
No. 2 seeds: Duke Off. 7, Def. 44, Total 51; Villanova Off. 8, Def. 28, Total 46; Kentucky Off. 4, Def. 27, Total 31; Auburn Off. 24, Def. 8, Total 32.
Comments: Duke’s defense is a huge red flag buffeted by Category 5 winds. In Coach K’s most recent Big Games (final home game against rival North Carolina, Atlantic Coast Conference championship game), the Blue Devils couldn’t guard a statue. The pressure of producing on offense to keep up with opponents scorching the nets is a lot for a young team trying to give their legendary coach a championship sendoff. Villanova and Kentucky also have defensive ratings that don’t measure up. In contrast, Auburn has a defense that’s good enough to win it all, but the offense is as organized as a cat parade. Coach Bruce Pearl operates with a 24-letter alphabet. No x’s and o’s.
No. 3 seeds: Texas Tech Off. 65, Def. 1, Total 66; Tennessee Off. 36, Def. 3, Total 39; Purdue Off. 3, Def. 100, Total 103; Wisconsin Off. 49, Def. 38, Total 87.
Comments: The teams on the three-seed line belong on The Island Of Misfit Toys. Texas Tech has an unyielding defense and a pedestrian offense. YVS has watched the Red Raiders play about a dozen games and the eye test says their offense isn’t that bad. Still, in the final minutes of a close NCAA game, when it needs a basket or overcome a deficit, can the Red Raiders score? Purdue has a productive offense and a putrid defense. Tennessee has balanced scoring but two of its top producers are freshmen. Wisconsin? YVS doesn’t want to badger a No. 3 seed, but the Badgers’ analytics suggest they’re over seeded.
Two teams that reached last season’s Final Four are worthy sleeper candidates based on Kenpom.com numbers. Houston, the five seed in the South Regional, is 10th in offense, 11th in defense and is ranked No. 4 overall in Pomeroy’s rankings. UCLA, the fourth seed in the East Regional, is 15th in offense and 12th in defense. Among the top teams in the bracket, the Cougars’ total of 21 ranks second behind Gonzaga while the Bruins’ total of 27 ranks fifth.
Dear reader, if you can uncross your eyes and rearrange your brain cells after that numerical assault, here’s the takeaway. The 2022 NCAA Tournament will be like most tournaments in that it will be wilder and crazier than Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd. Every team has flaws. If those teams face an opponent whose strength abuses the flaw, game over. In most games, a brief period of stupid shots or exemplary execution will decide the outcome.
Gonzaga, based on the Kenpom analytics, is the only team approaching perfection. It’s offensive and defensive efficiency fit the profile of 19 previous champions. The Zags have lost in two of the last four championship games. Perhaps Gonzaga is due.
Analyzing the analytics
Ken Pomeroy’s website Kenpom.com has been breaking down and analyzing college basketball statistics since 2001-02. Here is how the past 19 national champions have finished in his offensive and defensive efficiency rankings. The total listed is the combined raking of those categories.
Year Champion Off. Def. Total
2021 Baylor 2 22 24 2019 Virginia 2 5 7 2018 Villanova 1 11 12 2017 N. Carolina 9 11 20 2016 Villanova 3 5 8 2015 Duke 3 11 14 2014 UConn 39 10 49 2013 Louisville 7 1 8 2012 Kentucky 2 7 9 2011 UConn 19 15 34 2010 Duke 1 5 6 2009 N. Carolina 1 18 19 2008 Kansas 2 1 3 2007 Florida 1 13 14 2006 Florida 3 7 10 2005 N. Carolina 2 5 7 2004 UConn 9 6 15 2003 Syracuse 17 14 31 2002 Maryland 4 7 11
Through 5,837 games as of Sunday, kenpom.com has crunched the numbers. Like tips from your stock advisor, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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