Seven of top 16 teams worse than historical counterparts

One of the more valuable analyses I did last year leading up to the dance was comparing the quality of the top teams to their historical counterparts. This analysis not only uncovered a link between soft high seed efficiency and tourney unpredictably, but it also identified individual teams to avoid. Only four of the 16 one-through-four seeded teams whose efficiency ratings were below those of their historical seed counterparts actually beat expectations. With the information I’m about to explain, you would’ve steered clear of top-seeded flame-outs Syracuse and North Carolina, as well as two-seed upset victims Duke and Missouri (not to mention Baylor, Florida State, Georgetown and Michigan—all surprising underachievers.

Here’s the analysis I did last night: I compared the average Pythag values of the one, two, three and four seeds since 2004 with the top 16 teams based on Ken Pomeroy’s current rankings. (If you don’t know what Pythag and possession-based stats are, go to www.kenpom.com.) Here’s what I found:

top16_pythcomp

(A quick orientation to the chart: the numbers in the white boxes are the average Pythag values for each of the top four seeds. The thin white lines protruding from them cut horizontally across the chart to illustrate better which teams are above the average and which below. Those below average are noted with X’s in their marker box. All the teams come from Ken Pomeroy’s Pythag ratings. This doesn’t include the Hoosier upset to Butler–which just went down as I was writing this.)

All of the current top four teams on Ken’s list—theoretically the best squads in the land and most likely one seeds—are better than the average top seed of the past nine dances. If this were to hold true through Selection Sunday, you might expect these teams (Indiana, Florida, Louisville and Syracuse) to perform well in the tourney.

The next four teams (Duke, Ohio State, Pitt and Michigan) would be the two seeds in our hyphothetical bracket. The Blue Devils and Buckeyes are stronger than average two seeds, nearly one seeds in disguise. The Panthers and Wolverines, however, are worse than your typical two seeds…and potentially at risk of an early exit.

The same goes for Gonzaga and Wisconsin, the two weakest potential three seeds. And then there are the four seeds, all of whom have worse efficiency numbers than the typical four seed.

At this point, which is way, way too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it looks like we could have a top-heavy tourney, with strong top seeds, average two and three seeds and weaker four seeds. It this holds through the course of the season, it may mean we’ll see a relatively chalky dance, at least on the one-seed sides of the bracket.

There’s another analysis I do with Pythag values that helps determine the relative madness of the tourney. Look for that blog post coming soon.

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