Quality curve confirms the weakness of this year’s top teams

The last time I compared the Pythagorean values of the top 20 teams (heretofore the “KenPom Top 20”) to their historical counterparts, we saw that this year’s “elite” were markedly worse than any top 20 in the last decade. This is an important comparison because, as I explained in a December 30 post, there’s a correlation between the efficiency of the top teams and the madness of the dance. Essentially, 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.

Periodically, I update my comparison of 2013’s elite teams to the best tourney field of the past decade (2007), the worst (2011) and the average. This year’s top 20 teams continue to be weaker than any tourney field since KenPom ratings came into being. But the dynamics have changed somewhat since my last update. Take a look:


If you were starting to feel like the Arizona Wildcats might be the only truly high-quality team this year, there’s a reason for that. Look at the steep drop from Arizona to second-place Wisconsin. That’s the biggest gap between succeeding teams except for the difference between Virginia to Florida State. That said, the top four teams—your presumptive one seeds—are markedly weaker than even the weakest top seeds of the last 10 years. Does anyone really think that Wisconsin, Syracuse and Villanova are comparable to dynamo one seeds of yore?

That’s one point to bear in mind. Now consider this: the presumptive two and three seeds, while still the weakest crop in a decade, are a lot closer to the previous weaklings than the one seeds were. From Iowa through Oklahoma State, the Pythag values of the squads are just a tick under those of 2011.

Then, things get even more interesting: look at Kentucky, Florida, Wichita State and Iowa State.  They’re a comparatively strong set of four seeds. In fact, even stronger on balance than the 2011 weaklings. Same goes for the five seeds—Virginia, Florida State, San Diego State and Cincinnati.

Okay…so this could be our situation heading into the 2014 tourney: significantly weak one seeds, somewhat weak twos and threes, and relatively stronger fours and fives. Add to this the fact that you could have teams like Duke, North Carolina, Michigan, UConn, Gonzaga, VC and Oregon lurking among the lower seeds.

How would you fill out your bracket?

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One Response to Quality curve confirms the weakness of this year’s top teams

  1. Andy says:

    I think it still goes further than just the straight up Pythag ratings though. I agree that these are not good potential 1 seeds, but you have to go even further. I think I’ve already touched up on Wisconsin because Bo Ryan isn’t the best tournament coach in the world. However, take a closer look at Syracuse and where they are getting their gaudy numbers from. Out of the current Pythag top ten, they have played the second weakest strength of schedules based on the other teams’ Pythag ratings. Furthermore, it is unheard of for a team with a fast tempo rating in the 300s to win a championship (Syracuse’s current rank there is 344). I want to give them credit for their Maui Invitational wins, and winning at home against Villanova is very good. However, their wins in Maui were against two fringe tournament teams (Minnesota and Cal) and a team consistently seeded well, but looking week for their seed in Baylor. I’m left to wonder, what happens when the competition gets tougher and they aren’t in the confines of Carrier Dome?

    I also did a little research tonight on another interesting topic related to Ken Pomeroy’s stats. One area I looked at was among the teams each year with the 50 fastest tempos, who made the tournament with a defense of at least 95 points given up over 100 possessions? The other area was teams with a tempo ranked 300 or lower (i.e., the slowest teams each year), and who had offense of less than 110 points scored per 100 possessions. I found that only one such team since 2003 has even been to the Elite Eight. That team was Oklahoma in 2003, a #1 seed, and they failed to make the Final Four. It should be noted, most teams to meet this criteria are teams that would not be expected to win in the tournament, seeded 13-16. However, two popular teams to take to the Elite Eight last year met the slow tempo/weak offense rule, Georgetown and Wisconsin. What happened? They both got upset in the first round.

    Looking at the teams mentioned above, only one entirely team fits one of the two bills, and that is Virginia, whose tempo ranks at 332 with an offense of 107.5 points per 100 possessions. I should point out though, that Oklahoma State has the 58th fastest tempo, but at 70.3 possessions per game and a defense of 95.8 points given up over 100 possessions, and Cincinnati is playing only 65 possessions per game (good for 289th fastest) while scoring only 105.9 points per 100 possessions. Oklahoma State is already kind of weak compared to 2011 to begin with, but I would cast a colder eye than previously thought on Virginia (who also missed last year’s tournament, I might add) and Cincinnati, too.

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