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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT IS NOT WIDE OPEN

During the 2012-2013 college basketball season, there has been one consistent theme: anyone can win it all. This is clearly hyperbole, but the consensus has been that the field is wide open. But is it really? Numbers and logic say it isn’t.

uconn-championship

UConn’s 2011 national title team was the statistically weakest in modern history

First the logical reason why the field isn’t as wide open as people are making it out to be is that there aren’t great teams this year. (This isn’t the thinking in the analytics community – ESPN Insider). If there’s so much criticism of the field being so average and the lack of great and even really good teams, how are so many teams capable of winning 6 games against like competition? Teams that aren’t great aren’t great for one primary reason: they don’t win enough. If the teams aren’t all that great, probably not a lot of them are capable of beating 6 quality opponents to win a national championship.

Let’s look statistically and more objectively how short the list of contenders are.

Since Ken Pomeroy tracked advanced statistics for college basketball, the 2011 Connecticut team had the worst offense and defense. Those are the two primary factors in winning a basketball game. Here are the list of national champions and how they performed in terms of offensive/defensive efficiency (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions) and possessions per game.

The results:

YEAR TEAM OFF EFFICIENCY DEF EFFICIENCY DIFF PACE
2003 SYRACUSE 116.0 90.2 25.8 72.6
2004 CONNECTICUT 119.9 85.5 34.4 69.7
2005 NORTH CAROLINA 126.6 86.7 39.9 73.9
2006 FLORIDA 119.4 87.2 32.2 67.9
2007 FLORIDA 125.4 87.4 38.0 66.8
2008 KANSAS 126.0 89.4 36.6 67.8
2009 NORTH CAROLINA 124.2 89.6 34.6 73.9
2010 DUKE 123.5 85.9 37.6 65.5
2011 CONNECTICUT 115.7 90.3 25.4 65.4
2012 KENTUCKY 122.9 88.2 34.7 66.2
AVERAGE   122.0 88.0 33.9 69.0
MEDIAN   123.2 87.8 34.7 67.9

Since 2003, no team that scored fewer than 115.7 points/100 possessions while allowing no more than 90.3 points/100 possessions and having fewer than 65.4 possessions won a national championship. Now, this doesn’t mean if a team scored 115 points/100 possession that they can’t win… Nor does it mean a team that allows 90.5 points/100 possessions can’t win. So for the sake of extending the range, let’s say our range is this (I’m being more lenient on possessions since several teams won in the mid 60′s… Not many teams won with less than 120 offensive efficiency or greater than 90 defensive efficiency):

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 116.0 and greater
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 91.0 and fewer

TEMPO: 64 possessions and greater

Here are this year’s teams that fit those numbers:

INDIANA
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 124.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 88.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 35.7 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

TEMPO: 67.9 POSSESSIONS

GONZAGA
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 120.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 89.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 31.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

TEMPO: 65.0 POSSESSIONS

DUKE
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 119.9 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 90.3 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 29.6 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

TEMPO: 68.5 POSSESSIONS

Those are the only teams that fit the range of the national championship winners from 2003-2011 on: offensive/defensive efficiency and tempo. If you factor in the optimal difference of offensive and defensive efficiency (something above 30 points) with the preferred tempo of above 65, here is the other team that can qualify:

LOUSVILLE
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 113.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 81.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

DIFFERENCE: 32.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
TEMPO: 66.9 POSSESSIONS

If Louisville wins it all, in modern history, they’ll be by far the worst offensive team to have won it.

The team that can push the current trend of tempo is Florida. KenPom has Florida ranked as the best team in the nation in terms of advanced statistics:

FLORIDA:
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 120.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 82.7 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS

DIFFERENCE: 37.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
********TEMPO: 62.7 POSSESSIONS

Florida has the greatest difference between offensive and defensive efficiency, but their tempo may be a problem. However, when Connecticut won it all in 2011, none of their NCAA tournament games had greater than 65 possessions and Duke’s highest tempo game during its 2010 run was a 64 possession game. So during the NCAA tournament, a quick tempo is probably less important than playing efficiently on offense and defense.

The other issue Florida has is they don’t get to the free throw line at a high rate. Free throws attempted per field goal attempt is a tracked statistic by KenPom. I should preface Florida’s troubles by saying this isn’t an essential stat to winning a national championship. Teams have been ranked in the mid 100′s (like Duke’s 2010 team) and won a national title. However, Florida’s FTA/FGA rate is under 30%. The worst team was the 2011 UConn team at 33.8%. If the Gators win it all, they’d be significantly, the slowest paced and worst free throw rate team to win it in modern history. That may be too many hurdles for them to get over during the tournament.

As random as the NCAA tournament can be, and usually is, the team that wins it all typically has a combination of an elite offense, elite defense and at least an average tempo.

If history repeats itself with championship winnings teams that have this statistical resume, odds are: Indiana, Gonzaga, Duke, Louisville or Florida will cut down the nets. The national championship is probably down to those five teams. It’s no coincidence those are the five top teams in the KenPom rankings.

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Discussion

One thought on “THE NCAA TOURNAMENT IS NOT WIDE OPEN

  1. I got to this link via Rush The Court, so thanks to them for pointing it out.

    There is one somewhat major flaw with an analysis like this: it includes the NCAA tournament data, which we currently don’t have for the 2013 season. I have no problem with looking over profiles and saying certain teams are more or less likely to win the tournament. However, the data you’re looking at includes the 6 wins that crowned that team the NCAA champion that year, which includes six consecutive wins over what should be some stiff competition. This probably doesn’t induce a lot of error, but its effect isn’t negligible either, and the worse a team looks before the tournament the more a win streak would buoy their numbers. For example, at this point in 2011 UConn was ranked 26th KenPom, but closing out the year with 11 straight wins (Big East & NCAA champions), including 4 over top-10 KenPom teams raised that profile. Obviously this result is cherry-picked (and KenPom only tracked a team’s ranking in his system game by game starting in 2011), but hopefully it makes my point. I have no doubt that the eventual NCAA champion will have wide efficiency margin, but I’m not sure that margin will be established until Mr. Pomeroy runs the final numbers on Tuesday April 9th.

    Posted by crcalpha | March 11, 2013, 8:57 AM

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2013 NFC North Standings

1. GREEN BAY PACKERS 8-7-1
2. CHICAGO BEARS 8-8
3. DETROIT LIONS 7-9
4. MINNESOTA VIKINGS 5-10-1

2013 Chicago Bears Schedule

1. VS CIN (W 24-21)
2. VS MIN (W 31-30)
3. @ PIT (W 40-23)
4. @ DET (L 40-32)
5. VS NO (L 26-18)
6. VS NYG (W 27-21)
7. @ WSH (L 45-41)
8. BYE
9. @ GB (W 27-20)
10. VS DET (L 21-19)
11. VS BAL (W 23-20)
12. @ STL (L 42-21)
13. @ MIN (L 23-20)
14. VS DAL (W 45-28)
15. @ CLE (W 38-31)
16. @ PHI (L 54-11)
17. VS GB (L 33-28)

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