It’s been about three weeks since I evaluated how the KenPom performance ratings of this year’s top teams compares to their historical counterparts. If you’ll 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 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). Meanwhile, 2007 broke records for predictability, with just three upsets.
When I did the line chart for this year’s top 20 on January 11, we saw that teams ranked 1-9 were markedly better than average, teams rated 10-15 were about average, and the 16-20th ranked teams were much worse than average. From this, I concluded that we may be in for a top-heavy tourney, with one and two seeds dominating the brackets.
The curve has undergone a significant change since then. Take a look at how the red line compares to the grey (average), orange (best field) and blue lines (worst field):
One thing jumps out on this table. Florida’s efficiency numbers are head and shoulders above the rest of the top 20. How good are the Gators’ KenPom stats? Chew on this: no team in the last nine years has gone into the tournament with a Pythag as high as Florida’s. Not Kentucky last year. Not the Gator squads that won back to back championships in 2006 and 2007.
The three other teams that would be slotted into the top seed—Michigan, Indiana and Louisville—are slightly better than their historical counterparts. But the gulf isn’t as big as it was three weeks ago. The same goes for the KenPom-projected two seeds (Duke, Kansas, Pitt and Syracuse) and three seeds (Minnesota, Ohio State, Arizona and Gonzaga). Miami, Creighton and Wisconsin rate out as markedly better potential four seeds, but Michigan State is below average. As for the projected five seeds, they’re more like the weak teams of 2011.
With the Quality Curve starting to conform more closely to average, I’m thinking that we may not see a top-heavy tourney. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last week, it’s that any of the top 20 teams can beat each other on a given night. As for the anomaly that is Florida, I’ll be very interested if those astronomical efficiency numbers remain so high. The pollsters have yet to fully credit Florida for their dominating play, but if they keep this up, they won’t be sneaking up on anyone come tourney time.