Ten teams have champ cred…but how good are they?

Last week, only four teams met all the criteria that the last 13 tournament champions possessed, and another four schools just missed due to soft schedules. This week, eight teams have all the characteristics of tourney winners and two are on the cusp, with schedules that are still too easy.

A quick reminder; 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

After a spate of high-profile holiday tournaments, the number of potential tourney champs actually increased. That’s never happened in the five years I’ve done champ forecasting. Take a look at the chart below. The eight teams with an orange “8” in the final column meet all champ qualifications. The two teams with a blue “7” are only missing the SOS.


Michigan State, Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State, Kansas, Wisconsin, Villanova and Florida all have the statistical chops to be champs. Kentucky and Louisville are almost certain to get there once their schedules toughen up. I think Duke will qualify before long as well. Right now, their leaky defense (dragged down by a dismal performance against Vermont) is what’s preventing them from cracking the champion list.

Duke is one of five teams in the AP Top 20 whose efficiency numbers suggest they’re undeserving of their lofty ranking. The other four are Oregon, Iowa State, UCLA and Baylor. Who do KenPom’s efficiency ratings say are better? Pitt is the most criminally disrespected. Not only are the Panthers undefeated, but they’re also the third most efficient team in the country. Iowa (10th in www.kenpom.com), Virginia (14), Michigan (19) and North Carolina (20) also have top 20 possession-based stats…yet didn’t crack the AP Top 20.

When you look at the KenPom Pythag values, these omissions aren’t the big surprise. What jumps out to me is the overall weakness of the so-called elite teams this year. Take Louisville, the country’s most efficient team with a .9478 Pythag. Last year at this time, eight teams had better numbers. In fact, today’s KenPom Top 20 is worse at every single position than weakest tourney field since possession-based numbers were developed. That would be the 2011 field, which contributed to one of the craziest dances in the modern era. No tournament had more upsets (13) and only last year had a higher Madometer rating (20.8% to 19.8%).

I’ll explain the Madometer and its connection to possession-based efficiency in a future post. But suffice it to say that when the better teams are less efficient than their historical counterparts, we tend to have more upsets. So what would you conclude from these dreadful numbers?


So far, this year’s best teams aren’t just weak; they’re epically awful. Think of it this way: the quality gulf between the best tourney field (2007) and the worst (2011) is only slightly bigger than the gulf between the historically awful field in 2011 and today’s collection of stumble-bummers.

Early in the season, on the night when MSU edged Kentucky and Kansas and Kansas downed Duke, I thought we might be in for a season where the elite teams dominated the college hoops landscape. But it doesn’t look like it will shake out that way. While it’s way too early to make any big declarations, I’m thinking now that we’re in for a wide-open college basketball season—and another unpredictable, upset-laden dance.

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6 Responses to Ten teams have champ cred…but how good are they?

  1. jbessa says:

    Despite historically weaker KP efficiency ratings the slope is still consistent with past years. Might rule changes this year which hurt defenses and increase tempo be affecting these ratings adversely. KP efficiency ratings are based on MOV relative to points allowed with an exponential component. So if overall scoring is up but MOV is relatively similar then ratings would decline across the board. No clue if this is true but just wanted to hypothesize.

    • ptiernan says:

      I think there’s something to this. I sent Ken Pomeroy an email asking for his thoughts. If the rules making defense tougher, you’d expect to see worse defensive efficiency numbers and higher offensive efficiency. I’ll have to investigate if that’s the case.

  2. Gary Diny says:


    Can any of the poor efficiency stats be related to some of the rule changes this past year. Less hand checking and bumping of cutters off the ball may be dragging down the defensive numbers some????

    Looking forward to another great college BB season….especially with my GB Packers sucking rocks without their QB. Good luck to your Lions going forward:)

    • ptiernan says:

      I just told jbessa that I think this probably has an impact on the numbers…but you should see worse defensive efficiency numbers. And I’d have to do more research to see if that’s the case. (There would also be a corresponding uptick in offensive numbers…since defense is penalized.)

      • Mike L. says:

        Hi Pete,

        I’m sure you’ve also raised this question with KenPom, but I’ll point it out for everyone to see.

        If I’m not mistaken, I think Possession-based stats estimate the number of possessions, rather than an actual count. I think an estimator is used to calculate possessions by multiplying it to Free Throws. If more fouls are called and more teams reach the double-bonus, then I expect that may distort the estimation of possessions over the long-term.

        As for the article itself, good work as usual. I’m just wondering if the artificial inflation of points by the new rules would distort your contenders list since PF>73. In effect, it would add make more teams eligible (maybe putting more pretenders in the list than contenders). I guess since I’m disgusted with watching games cause of the new rules, I might track teams’ dependency on points from the FT line. If a team get a large % of pts from the FT line, what happens in the tournament when they get an officiating crew that calls loosely?

        That’s all I have to add. I wish you the best of luck in your first full-time season, and hopefully the numbers won’t trick us.

        • ptiernan says:

          Mike – great points. I didn’t mention the FT issue to Ken, but you’re right: more FTs would skew the standard estimate multiplier he uses. As for the PF>73, that’s already downgraded from a few years ago, when the magic number was 77PPG. Up to 2010, 23 of 26 champs were at least that prolific. Last three years, none of them were. That’s why the points have been downgraded. Only Villanova in 1985 hasn’t scored at least 73PPG.

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