In this post, I’m going to cover these three points in rapid-fire succession:
- Ten teams in the AP Top 20 have the stats of the last 13 champions.
- All of them appear are much less efficient than their historical counterparts.
- In fact, only one team has both the offensive and defensive numbers of past champs.
The 12/16 champ check shows little movement
Every 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
This week’s list of qualifying teams is pretty much the same as last week’s. The only change is that Kentucky’s schedule toughened up enough that they met the SOS criterion—even as they fell in the rankings. 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—but will certainly get there once they move into conference play.
Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky met all the champ stats. Ohio State and Louisville have nearly all the right numbers, but are still playing schedules that are too soft.
This week, there are four AP Top teams whose Pomeroy Pythagorean efficiency stats suggest shouldn’t be there. UConn (21 in KenPom), Iowa State (22), Baylor (30) and Colorado (31) are the possession-based imposters. Based on quality numbers, Pittsburgh (9 in KenPom) remains the most criminally omitted team. Iowa (13), Gonzaga (17) and Creighton (18) are the other teams that are playing more efficiently than their AP rating indicates. That said, nobody so far this year is proving themselves to be an historically great squad…
How the Pythag Top 20 quality curve compares to the past
A couple weeks ago, I showed a Pythag curve comparing this year’s 20 most efficient teams to those of past tourneys. I compared 2013’s elite teams to the best tourney field of the past decade (2007) and the worst (2011). What we’ve seen is that when a tourney’s best teams are less efficient, there tend to be more upsets—and when the best teams are stronger, the dances are more chalky.
If that correlation holds true, we could be in for an absolutely batsh*t crazy dance. This year’s top 20 teams are markedly less efficient—at every quality position—than even the weakest tourney field. Take a look:
Ken Pomeroy has cautioned me not to make too much out of the low numbers this year, at least until mid-January. But the fact remains that these numbers are much lower than they were at the same point of the 2012 season. Some readers have speculated that rules changes may be behind this efficiency gap—or problems in Ken’s formula, which estimates a possession value for free throws that may be getting skewed as more people are parading to the line. Maybe. But one would think those sorts of dynamics would cut both ways, hurting defensive numbers while helping the offense. I’m sure some of that is going on—as the next section will show—but the net effect on efficiency shouldn’t change.
While 12 teams have good enough offenses, only three have strong enough defenses
Last year, I started using another way to forecast potential tourney champions. I used both KenPom’s raw offensive/defensive efficiency numbers and his rankings to establish champion thresholds based on the past decade of tourney winners.
Let’s look at the rankings first. The last 10 champions have been ranked no lower than 17th in offensive efficiency and no worse than 25th on defense. Only five teams meet these criteria so far this year: Arizona, Wisconsin, Louisville, Oklahoma State and Kansas. The Cowboys are the only team that didn’t make our traditional champ list, and that’s because coach Travis Ford doesn’t have the requisite tourney success.
If you think raw numbers are a truer indication of champion potential, chew on this: only one team meets both the offensive efficiency threshold (no less than 115.1 points per 100 possessions) and the defensive barrier (no more than 92.2 points per 100 possessions). Who’s the team? Would it shock you to learn that it’s defending champ Louisville? Take a gander at how each of the top 20 teams compare to the offensive and defensive thresholds:
While 12 of 20 teams make the grade offensively (orange squares), only three—Louisville, Ohio State and Villanova—have the defensive quality of past champions (blue squares). And the Cardinals are the only team with both credentials. One team. Last year at this team, nine teams had the raw offense/defense numbers of past tourney winners.
I’m starting to get scared for my bracket already. It’s not just that the numbers are suggesting a weaker crop of college hoops teams, but the eye test is telling me that aren’t that many elite squads. In a future post, I’ll break down who I think are the true contenders this year. So far, there aren’t many. I’ll give you Arizona. After that, there’s a handful of suspect squads fighting for legitimacy—and I don’t know that they’ll get there.