About two weeks ago, I posted the season’s first check of teams with the credentials to win the 2014 tourney. And I did it without a single game being played. Thirteen teams from the AP Top 20 had the conference affiliation and coaching experience that the last 13 tourney winners have had.
But coaching and conference association are just two measures of who’s likely to cut down the nets. Every single champion after 2000 has possessed these characteristics:
- A one, two or three seed
- Member of a Power conference: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC
- Either went to the previous year’s dance or have an All-American
- Led by a coach with more than five tourney trips and at least one Elite Eight run
- Averaging more than 73 points per game
- Allowing fewer than 73 points per game
- An average scoring margin of at least seven points per game
- A schedule among the 75 strongest in the country
So now that everyone has played at least six games, how many teams meet all these qualifications? I’m surprised to report only four teams currently have the statistical chops to be champs: Michigan State, Kansas, Wisconsin (say what?) and North Carolina. Where are Kentucky and Arizona and Duke, you ask? Take a look at this chart and you’ll see why they don’t make the grade:
The reason that 13 of the AP Top 20 don’t meet champion requirements is that their schedule is currently too soft. If it weren’t for cushy SOS numbers, Kentucky, Arizona, Syracuse, Louisville and Florida—all the teams with the blue boxes at the far right of the chart under “TOT”—would also be potential stats champs. With the four teams that have orange boxes (the Spartans, Jayhawks, Badgers and Tar Heels), that makes nine teams with the inside track to win the tourney at this point.
There are some surprising omissions in this list. Fifth-ranked Oklahoma State doesn’t make the grade, despite a whopping 40-point victory margin, because Travis Ford doesn’t have the requisite tourney experience or success. Duke is out because they allow a shameful 75.7 points a game. And Ohio State isn’t in the conversation because they’re averaging well under 73 points per contest.
This list of potential champs will fluctuate over the course of the year, ultimately dwindling to about five teams. And the ultimate tourney winner has been among that handful of candidates for 13 straight dances. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say MSU and Kansas are legit and Wisconsin and North Carolina will be exposed as pretenders. Meanwhile, as the schedules get tougher, Kentucky, Arizona and Louisville will make the grade.
Looking for darkhorses? The second column in the chart above shows where the teams rank according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency numbers. If you believe his possession-based statistics—and why wouldn’t you?—five teams in the current AP Top 20 are imposters: Duke, Oregon, Iowa State, Baylor and UCLA. They’ve taken the spots of five more efficient squads: Pittsburgh (#6 on KenPom.com), Iowa (12), Virginia (16), St. Louis (17) and Memphis (20).
I’ll update this champ check every week or so. If history is any indication, we should be down to about eight legitimate champion contenders by the New Year…and half of that by Selection Sunday.