In my December 20 post, I compared the KenPom performance values of the top 20 most efficient teams to their historical counterparts to get an early bead on whether 2013 might be a crazy or sane dance. As you may recall, there’s a connection between the quality of the top teams and tourney unpredictability. Basically, the years when the elite squads were relatively more efficient correlated to chalky dances, while those years when they were less efficient aligned with upset-laden tourneys.
I compared the 2011 and 2007 dances, the maddest and sanest of the 64-team era. 2011 saw the worst top 20 teams in terms of KenPom Pythag efficiency calculations since the data became available in 2004. Conversely, 2007 featured the highest quality top 20. And what happened? The 2011 dance tied a record for upsets (13) and broke the Madometer unpredictability record (19.8% madness). Meanwhile, the 2007 broke records for predictability, with just three upsets and a scant 4.1% Madometer reading.
When I did the line chart for this year’s top 20 back before Christmas, it fell mostly below the average quality of the past eight dances. The top six teams were slightly better than average, then the relative quality degraded, settling much closer to the 2011 “weakest field” line.
Three weeks have passed since then. So where does the quality of this year’s elite teams stand today? Much, much better. Take a look at how the red line compares to the grey line (average), the orange line (best field) and blue line (worst field):
From the best team all the way down to the 15th strongest team, this year’s elite are better or about the same as average. In fact, they’re particularly strong from the second best team (Duke) to the ninth (Kansas), rivaling the excellent two>nine from 2007. Teams 10 through 15 are almost right on the average line, while team ranked 16-20 are below average.
What might this mean? For one thing, the line’s overall drift upward—and above the average—since December 20, means that we could have a strong set of teams seeded one through three. That could make it tougher for Cinderellas to pull off longshot upsets.
That said, with four seeds slightly below average overall and five seeds potentially the weakest since 2004, we could see more 6v11 and 5v12 upsets than usual. And that’s typically where I recommend starting to go against higher-seed predictions.
Beyond the first round, near-2007 strength of one seeds and above-average quality of two seeds could foretell a high-seed heavy Elite Eight. In 2007, four top seeds, three two seeds and one three seed reached the quarterfinals. Maybe 203 will approach that chalkiness.
It’s still early. Most of these top 20 teams are going to get battered and bruised through the conference schedule. So the curve could still bend in surprising ways. But right now, I would bet on a crazy dance like we saw in 2011.