Florida out, North Carolina in this week’s list of potential champs

Last week, eight teams met all the criteria that the last 13 tournament champions possessed, and another two schools just missed due to soft schedules. This week, only seven teams have all the characteristics of tourney winners and three are on the cusp, with schedules that are too easy. Florida has fallen all the way off the stats champ list. Ohio State has dropped into SOS purgatory—and North Carolina has vaulted into contention.

Remember—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

Take a look at the chart below. The seven teams with an orange “8” in the final column meet all champ qualifications. The three teams with a blue “7” are only missing the SOS.

Champstats_12-9-13

Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Villanova, Kansas, and North Carolina all have the statistical chops to be champs. Ohio State, Louisville and Kentucky are almost certain to get there once their schedules toughen up. Duke is inching closer to qualifying as well. After a solid defensive effort against Michigan, the Blue Devils are just 0.2 points per game away from meeting the “points against” criterion.

Who else might climb onto the champ list before the season is done? Florida could certainly get there, but Scottie Wilbekin’s injury makes an already low-scoring squad that much more offensively challenged. Pitt and Michigan are also possible candidates. The Panthers are criminally overlooked right now, while the Wolverines are trying to figure out life without Trey Burke. Iowa and Creighton also have better possession-based Pythag numbers than the AP ratings suggest. But neither Fran McCaffery nor Greg McDermott have the tourney success to qualify for the champ list.

Pomeroy’s thoughts on this year’s low Pythag numbers

In my December 4 post, I noted how incredibly bad the Pythag efficiency numbers are for this year’s top 20 teams—far below even the worst tourney field of the last decade. I sent Ken Pomeroy a note asking if he had any explanation for it. Here’s what Ken said: 

“I wouldn’t read too much into that yet, because the preseason ratings still have some influence and those ratings are regressed pretty strongly, since we really can’t know who is great at the beginning of the season. I’d wait another month before drawing any conclusions in that regard using my ratings.”

That’s fair. But the fact remains that this year’s top 20 Pythag teams are markedly lower than any other top 20 at this point in the season. I’ll reserve judgment, though, until the first of the New Year.

Some readers had their own thoughts on why the numbers are so low. Both Jbessa and Gary Diny speculated that the rule changes hampering aggressive defending might be behind the lower efficiency numbers. But that factor would likely cut both ways—lowering defensive efficiency while increasing offensive efficiency. Mike L rightly pointed out that Ken Pomeroy’s possession-based formula estimates the number of possessions using a multiple of free throws. So if free throws are up, that might skew the formula. This is certainly a possibility. I haven’t looked at whether free throw attempts are up this year…but I’ll revisit this whole issue come 2014.

Evaluating champs using Pomeroy efficiency data

Last year, I pointed out that the last ten tourney champs have had no lower than a 115.1 offensive efficiency value (points per 100 possessions) and no higher than a 92.2 defensive efficiency value. UConn set both these upper and lower limits in 2011. The 2009 North Carolina squad was equally soft defensively, but their OE was 123.8.

I know, I know. Ken said it’s too early to make any judgment from his numbers. But just for giggles, here are all the teams that meet these two thresholds: Louisville. That’s right—exactly one team right now has both the offensive and defensive numbers to meet the efficiency numbers of the last decade of champions. Fourteen teams make the grade offensively, while only seven make it defensively. This could very well be the result of the rule changes punishing defenses. To give you some perspective, last year 18 of the Pythag top 20 met the defensive qualifications for a champion, while only eight were efficient enough offensively.

I’m going to take Ken’s advice and be patient. But something strange is going on this year. Maybe it’s the rules. Maybe it’s how those rules affect Ken’s formula. Or maybe—just maybe—this year’s college basketball’s best aren’t all that great this season.

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