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.