The NFL may be my bread and butter but there is absolutely nothing in sports that compares to the excitement of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Everyone from the sharpest of sharps to your grandmother and her hair dresser are putting in a bracket pool entry somewhere. I do hours upon hours of research this time of year in the hopes of finding some angles worth playing. Let me share with you some of my thoughts on this upcoming tournament and what you should be looking for in your brackets.
Much of the data I will be referencing in this article I received via Peter Tiernan of Bracket Science. His site is an invaluable tool for getting information on the tournament teams.
In picking potential final 4 teams and champions I find it much easier to eliminate teams from consideration to narrow down the selections. Here are some of the criteria I will use
1. Pre Season AP Rankings can predict tournament success
The following comes from a Nate Silver article in the NY Times before the 2011 tournament.
Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 41 cases in which a school that was unranked to start the season entered the tournament ranked in the A.P. top 10 (excluding a couple of cases where the team was ineligible for tournament play). These schools, as you might expect, were seeded highly: eight were No. 1 seeds and another 17 were seeded No. 2.
Absolutely none of these teams have made the Final Four, however: they are 0-for-41. Instead, they have been the victims of some notorious upsets, like the No. 2-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks losing — by 13 points! — to the No. 15 seed Coppin State in the opening round of the 1997 tournament, and the No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers being one of Davidson’s victims in 2008. Three of the No. 1 seeds that fit this description — Michigan in 1985, St. John’s in 1986, and Cincinnati in 2002 — lost in the Round of 32.
This has held up since then.
2011 Notre Dame (2) lost in 2nd round to Florida
2012 Florida State (3) lost in 2nd round to Cincinnati
2013 Georgetown (2) lost in 1st round to Florida GC
2013 Miami (2) lost in 3rd round to Marquette
2014 Villanova (1) TBD
2014 Iowa St (3) TBD
2. 3 point shooting
In this day and age of college basketball the three point shot has become extremely important.
Since 2007 no team who has shoots under 30% from behind the arc has won a game in the tournament.
This year no teams qualify
Since 2007 only 3 teams shooting under 33% from 3 have made the elite 8. If you are not going to shoot the 3 well then you need to defend it well. In 2012 both Louisville and Ohio State made it to the final 4 with sub 33% 3 point shooting but both defended the 3 as good or better than they shot it. Louisville gave up 30.3% from 3 and Ohio State 32.5%.
Teams to be leary of
NC State 30.3%
St. Louis 31.9%
Ohio St 32.6%
St Louis, and Ohio St defend the 3 as well as any team in the country so keep that in mind. St Louis defends at 28.4% and OSU 29.4%. Kentucky is not far behind at 31.7%
The worst net 3 point shooting teams (Off % – Def %) are
3. Scoring Margin
Using the PASE (Performance above seed expectations) stat from Bracket Science the number one determinant of being able to outperform your seed expectation is scoring margin.
111 teams have been a 1-4 seed and come in to the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin. 46 have made the final 4 (41%) and 16 have won it all (14.4%).
This year that is Wichita St and Louisville. The problem here is when you look at teams that had a strength of schedule 70 or worse from this group you get 6 teams, none of which made it to an elite 8. Louisville had an 80 SOS and Wichita St 98.
*Arizona has a 14.9 scoring margin and the number 4 strength of schedule.
Of the 132 teams to get a 1-4 seed and have a scoring margin under 10 just 2 have won a title and 11 gone to the final 4.
4. Coaches Success
Coaches are very important to the success of a team come tournament time. The great coaches tend to outperform their expectations.
Again from Pete at Bracket Science
Using tourney appearances and Elite Eight trips, I’ve come up with the following taxonomy of coaching types in the tourney:
- Rookies – making their first trip to the tourney
- Novices – 2-5 tourney trips with no Elite Eight runs
- Prodigies – 2-5 tourney trips with at least one Elite Eight run
- Snake-bit – more than five trips with no Elite Eight runs
- Flashes – more than five trips with one Elite Eight run
- Destined – 6-10 trips with more than one Elite Eight run
- Veterans – more than 10 trips with 2-4 Elite Eight runs
- Legends – more than 10 trips with more than four Elite Eight runs
I’m focusing this analysis on one through six seeds, the seeds most likely to advance in the dance. A standard PASE analysis on the eight classes of coaches turned up these results:
As the chart shows the “snakebit” coaches are ones you will want to stay away from picking to make a deep run.
This years Snake Bit coaches are
5. Points Per Game
Playing defense is great but you will need to keep pace with great offenses come tournament time.
68 Teams have scored 73 ppg or less in the tournament and had a 1-4 seed. 9 made the final 4 with no champions.
Virginia 65.9 ppg
Syracuse 68.2 ppg
San Diego St 70.6 ppg
Florida 70.7 ppg
Arizona squeaks in at 73.1 ppg
27 Champions since 1985 have been a 1-4 seed with just 2 seeded higher. So for a potential champion we should eliminate all teams seeded above 4.
From the above we can eliminate the following top 4 seeds from championship contention
Team (corresponding number from above that eliminated them from consideration)
Wichita St (3)
Iowa St (1)
San Diego St ( 5)
So of the 1-4 seeds that leaves us with
4. Michigan State
We have eliminated some of the top picks like Louisville and Florida but we still have some public favorites like Arizona and Michigan St left. Duke may be a team to take in your office pool that will not be heavily picked. Michigan St and Louisville seem to be very en vogue picks right now. So if you are looking to zig while they zag you have some options.
In my brackets I would look for a team higher than a 4 to make one of the final four spots. If you like Arizona, Duke and Michigan St then you have to look to the South region for that long shot to come in. We eliminated the top 4 seeds so lets try and find a long shot.
We eliminated Ohio St, New Mexico and Colorado all based on 3 point shooting.
Of the top 8 seeds that leaves VCU at the 5 seed. This is a team with a coach who knows how to win in the tournament. Shaka Smart has exceeded his seed expectation by 1.2 games per tournament thanks in large part to his final four run in 2011 as an 11 seed. VCU plays a smothering, trapping style of defense and it gives teams with weak point guards fits. The teams that have beaten VCU in the tournament the last 3 years all had very good point guards. If you are looking for a long shot in the South this is the team I like.
It is often said but this year it is true, the tournament is up for grabs. Would you be that surprised if Kentucky made a run with all that talent? Or if there were no 1 seeds in the final 4? I don’t think anything should surprise you come this years dance. That makes for very exciting games and office pools.