The madness of March has already wrecked it's fair share of brackets after just the first weekend, just like it always seems to do. You had Michigan State winning it all? Well, you're an idiot! Why would you pick MIchigan State to win it all you rube! (It's ok, I thought Izzo + favorable draw + one of the best players in the country would also = national championship... oh how wrong we were) But there is still two-thirds of the tournament from a round stand point and plenty of dramatic basketball left to be played. Heck, March has become so mad that many a website now do a "round-by-round" picking system to hold people's interest in playing various contests throughout the whole tournament. Which leads me to the point of this particular piece:
Who the heck is going to win it all this year?
With 16 teams remaining, ranging from 11 seeds to 1 seeds, blueblood basketball programs to programs that are traditionally more concerned about the gridiron, and every team in between, we have a wide variety of candidates to choose from, even though our field has been whittled down threefold since the beginning of the tournament. Since picking a successful bracket appears to be beyond my areas of expertise (please see This One's for Tubby!!!!! entry in the Yahoo TDG bracket pool for the evidence), let us look to a system far more intelligent than any one person could be: the KenPom efficiency rating system.
The statistics involved in the KenPom rating are often cited and quoted at this site by several of our basketball writers. Sometimes, they are met with skepticism. But looking all the way back to 2002, when Pomeroy starting tracking the statistics, and up until the present, some pretty obvious patterns reveal themselves. Below is a chart to display these particular phenomena.
There are a few obvious conclusions to be made about national champions of the last 14 years. Here are a few I think are most relevant:
- Teams that win it all are rated within the top 10 overall according to KenPom. Strangely, Connecticut has twice been a bit of an "outlier," winning it all while being rated 9th (2011) and 8th (2014). Remember they were seeded way below KenPom's rating of them in 2011 and 2014, 3 seed and 7 seed, respectively.
- A champion has never been worse than 39th in offensive rating and even that is an outlier. Take out the Miracle Huskies and that number drops to 18th in offensive rating.
- A team has never been worse than 21st in defensive rating.
- The highest rated team (according to KenPom) has won the championship 7 of the 14 years of it's existence. That is to say, if one solely used KenPom to determine the national champion, they would have been right 50% of the time. I should probably try this...
- Stating the fairly obvious here but... teams that are elite in a per-possession basis in both offense and defense find themselves bringing home hardware. You don't necessarily have to be the best at either one but your combined rating must be top tier if you expect to hang a banner.
- The team must rank in the top 18 in offensive rating (we're ignoring the UConn outliers for sake of simplification).
- The team must rank in the top 17 in defensive rating.
- The team must rank in the top 9 in overall rating.
Sweet Sixteen Notes
- Duke and Notre Dame, while contributing to the positive vibes the ACC has been feeling all week due to having 6 participants in the Sweet Sixteen, are defensively atrocious, ranking 109th and 172nd in defensive rating, respectively. Notre Dame is "lucky" (sorry I had to) to be in the third round of the tournament, considering they got a tip in against a superior Stephen F. Austin team (according to KenPom, 26th overall, 50 off., 20 def) in the waning moments of their second round matchup. Look for both of these teams to lose their games (Yes, I understand that means Wisconsin advances but I'm just stating emotionless facts here).
- Of the "non-contender" teams remaining, the most balanced is the Bulldogs of Gonzaga. They sport an offensive rating ranked 23rd and a defensive rating ranked 22nd. With this kind of balance and Damontas Sabonis playing his best ball of the year, look for them to beat Syracuse and clash with top-rated Virginia in the Elite Eight.
- A way one could have sniffed out the Michigan State upset would have been to look at their defensive rating, which was 51st in the country. They had the #1 rated offense, and they had no problem scoring points against Middle Tennessee State, but they couldn't stop the Blue Raiders at any point during that first round matchup. KenPom may have hinted towards that result.