It’s been 20 days since the last time I checked up on the KenPom Top 20 Quality Curve. For those who haven’t read the previous posts, there’s a connection between the quality of the top teams and tourney unpredictability. The 2011 tourney saw the worst top 20 teams in terms of KenPom 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) while 2007 broke records for yawn-inducing predictability, with just three upsets.
When last we left the Quality Curve, it was more of a cliff then a gentle slope. The first 13 teams were at or above the average quality of their historical counterparts. Then, between Ohio State and Arizona, there was a precipitous drop. The final seven teams in KenPom’s top 20 were historically bad—worse even than the 2011 tourney’s collection of vulnerable squads.
So how has the curve moved in the last 20 days? In a word, it’s collapsed into mediocrity. Check out the slide, animated in groups of four—as if seed by seed:
The top four teams are the same ones we had three weeks ago—Florida, Indiana, Louisville and Gonzaga. All of them own efficiency values better than the average team for their ranking. Theoretically, they would be as prone to an upset as your average top seed. (Remember: just because KenPom rates teams in the first to fourth position doesn’t mean they’ll be one seeds. (Florida? Not likely.)
The next four KenPom teams (Duke, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Kansas) get progressively worse than the average teams for their position. This is a big change from three weeks ago. For one thing, the teams were Wisconsin, Duke, Syracuse and Pitt. For another, they were right on that average curve. So what does that mean? It means that the presumptive two seeds are weaker than the historical average.
The same dynamic is in play for the ninth through 12th most efficient teams. Twenty days ago, the teams were Michigan, Miami, Kansas and Michigan State. Today, it’s still the Wolverines and Spartans, but Wisconsin and Syracuse have dropped into this grouping. Not only that, but the efficiency of all these teams has sagged. Now, instead of being average “three seeds,” they’re closer to the worst grouping in the last nine years. So—you could be looking at super weak three seeds. Does that mean a 3v14 upset is in the offing? Maybe a 3v6 or 3v11 surprise?
The teams ranked 13th through 20th—from Georgetown to Virginia—have changed names, but just like 20 days go, they remain historically bad for teams in their position. These are the teams that would be expected to wind up as four and five seeds. The 4v13 and 5v12 games are already adventurous enough. Throw in weaker than weak four and five seeds, and you could have round-one mayhem. On the other hand, soft fours and fives could pave the way for top seed chalkiness into the Elite Eight.
I’ll update this Quality Curve after Selection Sunday so you can decide for yourself how unpredictable you think this dance will be.