Ten teams have the stats to be champs—but six have inside track

It’s been two weeks since the last time I did a champ check. In that time, the final four unbeaten teams tasted defeat and a host of other top teams got upset. Despite all the turmoil, though, the same 10 teams who were champworthy on January 7 make the grade today.

After the AP top 20 came out earlier today, I crunched the numbers on our standard champ check. Every one of the last 12 champions have possessed these eight characteristics:

  • Earned a one, two or three seed
  • Came from a Power conference: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC (CF in the list below)
  • Either went to the previous year’s dance or had an All-American (*/12)
  • Were led by a coach with more than five tourney trips and at least one Elite Eight run (CO)
  • Averaged more than 73 points per game (PF>73)
  • Allowed fewer than 73 points per game (PA<73)
  • Owned an average scoring margin of at least seven points per game. (SM>=7)
  • Played a schedule among the 75 strongest in the country (S<75)

So which teams currently have these eight stats? Check out this table:


Under the “TOT” column at the far right, an “8” means the team met all the credentials. Red-filled boxes identify credentials each team failed to meet. The ten teams on the champ list are Duke, Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville, Indiana, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio State and North Carolina State. Notable omissions include Arizona, Butler, Gonzaga and Michigan State.

Notice the thin teal flags at the far left of the table? These flags identify six teams that meet two other champ stats I’ll be following this year. If you’re a fan of Ken Pomeroy’s possession-based efficiency statistics, these two filters should be of particular interest. I hesitate to include them in the basic champ check because I only have nine years of pre-tourney KenPom data. That said, every one of the nine champions since 2004 has had an offensive efficiency rank among the top 17 and a defensive rank among the top 25.

When you evaluate the AP top 20 on these two KenPom rankings, four of our potential champs don’t make the grade:

  • Michigan drops off because they rank 39th on defense.
  • Minnesota misses out on defense too—just barely—ranking 26th
  • Ohio State’s offense isn’t efficient enough (20th)
  • And NC State’s defensive ranking is shockingly low at 140th

That leaves six teams that have the inside statistical track to cut down the nets: Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville, Indiana and Florida. My guess is that by Selection Sunday, Florida will drop off this list, failing to meet the 73-point scoring average threshold. Kansas and Louisville could also find themselves in the same boat as they struggle through the meat grinder of conference play. We’ll keep an eye on these champ stats throughout the season.

One last analysis: I like to track the teams whose AP rankings don’t reflect their overall KenPom efficiency ratings. Right now, according to possession-based data, six teams don’t deserve to be ranked in the top 20. Check out the red boxes under the second column, labeled “PR.” The biggest imposter is Kansas State (ranked 44th on KenPom) but Butler (33), New Mexico (30), North Carolina State (29, and a potential champ no less!), Wichita State (24) and Oregon (23) aren’t playing as efficiently as their AP ranking would indicate either.

They’ve taken the spots of six underrated squads. Pitt is the most criminal omission (ranked ninth on KenPom). Wisconsin (15), Kentucky (16), Oklahoma State (17), Cincinnati (18) and Ole Miss (20) also got the shaft.

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10 Responses to Ten teams have the stats to be champs—but six have inside track

  1. P.H. says:

    I love KenPom’s stuff. But I get an odd feeling when I see Wisconsin high up and Butler down. Butler has out performed Wisconsin in the tourney and I think we all agree they are the better team today. Wisconsin is always efficient. That just doesn’t seem to matter when they run into good shooting teams like Cornell and Davidson.

    • ptiernan says:

      One of the things I recognize about KenPom data is that it doesn’t calculate WHEN a team is efficient or inefficient. My contention is that a team like Wisconsin might be efficient for 90% of the game, but in the last four minutes do they have the sort of system that can score when they need to? Butler may be on the other side of this equation–a team whose overall efficiency belie the fact that they get it done in crunch time.

      • P.H. says:

        I do see what your saying and agree. I’m not being disparaging in fact I love reading the KenPom updates.

        That said I wrote this right before the Wisc – Mich St game. I am not sure I’ve witness a worse performance by anyone at anytime then the Badgers down the stretch. Very much like you stated above.

  2. Brian says:

    Hi Pete. I am a new reader of your blog and have a couple questions. 1.) Is the KenPom pre-tournament data available to insiders? 2.) How is your strength of schedule measured?

    • ptiernan says:

      Brian – KenPom.com data is free on his site. If you want to go way deep there, it’s 20 bucks. I get SOS data from CBSSports.com (where I also contribute). You can read the bracketscience.com blog for free, but if you want the in-depth analyses in articles under “Tips,” access to the Bracketmaster query tool, or the Excel sheet on Selection Sunday for 80+ stats of every team in the tourney field, you’ll have to spring 10 bucks for the Insider membership.


  3. Matt says:

    Will you by chance be updating this table, or have a finalized table once teams are seeded on Selection Sunday?

  4. Ray says:

    Should your 8 criteria be weighed equally? Look at the example of Arizona- the two red boxes are in All-Americans and visits by the Coach to the Tourney including Elite 8. Arizona has a guy playing like an All-American (Lyons) who has been to 3 sweet sixteens and and a Coach Miller has 5 NCAA visits and an Elite Eight trip even though they were not all at Arizona. Plus they meet the efficiency standards of previous winners. Seems to me that your bin criteria are more arbitrary than rational. I’m not saying that Arizona will win but it seems clear that seeding and scoring margin should be more important than a missing tournament trip by the Coach or last year’s personnel.

    • ptiernan says:

      Fair points, Ray. In fact, I would value the efficiency stats over some of the eight champ stats. And you’re correct in pointing out that Sean Miller is one trip away from qualifying for the criteria. In fact, this would be his sixth trip, so he actually WOULD qualify. Take the numbers as guidelines more than hard-and-fast rules.

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