The 5 Most Underrated College Basketball Teams
You can call it lucky, but we like to call it math.
Last week, I published five teams that our numbers didn’t really like when compared to the AP Top 25. That night, the number one squad on the list, Saint Louis, fell to – wait for it – the 11-15 Duquesne Dukes.
If that wasn’t enough, the number three overrated team in the country according to our metrics, Syracuse, still hasn’t won a game since the article was published. Their 19-point loss to the University of Virginia was at least to one of the best teams in the country, but losing by five to Georgia Tech at home on senior night? Come on, Orange, you’re better than that.
Actually, maybe you aren’t.
But enough negativity. College hoops isn’t just about pinpointing the teams who shouldn’t be ranked as high as they are. It’s also about the schools who should be ranked higher than they’re currently perceived. We care, too, about the underrated teams.
So, just like last week, I took a look at our nERD rankings and compared them to this week’s AP Top 25. Because we’re dealing with underrated teams, the majority of the squads listed below aren’t even ranked. But that’s fine – they would’ve been ranked if the best teams were determined by our metrics.
If you need a refresher, nERD is the expected point differential a team versus a league-average squad would see at a neutral location. In other words, if a team with a nERD of 10 played a team with a nERD of 4 on a neutral court, the former team would be expected to win by 6 points.
Without boring you any longer, let’s take a look at the five most underrated teams in college hoops.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers
AP Rank: Unranked
nERD Rank: 19
Again, I have to remind readers that I am indeed a University of Pittsburgh alum, but that’s irrelevant to this analysis. After all, I’m not the brainiac who comes up with our amazing metrics. I simply show you what these advanced numbers mean.
Pitt’s had one of the most frustrating years imaginable, losing plenty of games in the final minutes. No contest was worse for Pitt fans than when Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis hit a prayer at the end of regulation at the Petersen Events Center for the win, but really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Panthers this season.
Jamie Dixon evidently enjoys playing in close games, but that’s really come to haunt Pitt down the stretch. They’re just 4-6 in their last 10, including a loss to the
T.J. Warrens North Carolina State Wolfpack at home earlier this week.
Despite this, Pitt ranks 19th according to nERD, as their defensive rating comes in as the 35th-best in the country, with an offensive rating that’s 17th-best. The problem is that, because of the team’s recent struggles, Lamar Patterson and company may not even make it to the dance.
4. UCLA Bruins
AP Rank: Unranked
nERD Rank: 16
The Bruins received 45 Top 25 votes this past week, but are still on the outside looking in despite ranking 16th according to our metrics.
UCLA has four players averaging double-digit points per game, most notably Jordan Adams, and as a result, have an offensive rating that’s eighth-best in the country. Though they lack a little defensively, they still rank 45th, better than teams like Duke and Michigan.
The problem is that they haven’t played an incredibly tough schedule, and they’re 1-2 against ranked teams, with losses to Duke and Arizona. It didn’t help when Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the team’s top two scorers, were suspended, as UCLA lost to a bubble Oregon team.
Regardless, UCLA boasts a solid team, and are projected to be a six seed according to our numbers. We just think that they’re better than that.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
AP Rank: Unranked
nERD Rank: 14
The Buckeyes dropped out of the Top 25 last week after suffering devastating losses to Penn State and Indiana. They’re now 9-8 in conference play, though they do have a solid 22-8 record thanks to a strong start.
But Ohio State can beat you with their defense. They ranked second only behind Arizona in defensive rating, allowing just 82.87 points per 100 possessions. Even if you look at the raw data, Ohio State comes in seventh with regards to points allowed.
The offense, however, isn’t nearly as strong, ranking 212th in points per game and 136th in field goal percentage in the country. However, when you adjust this for factors like pace, the Buckeyes still are stronger than teams like North Carolina and Cincinnati on offense.
Ohio State has some decent wins, splitting the season series with Iowa and beating Wisconsin on the road. And it’s because of all this that we see Ohio State rank as a top-15 team, despite the AP Poll saying otherwise.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
AP Rank: 24
nERD Rank: 5
It doesn’t help that Iowa lost to Michigan State last night, dropping their second to the Spartans this season. Even still, the loss didn't do nearly enough for us to believe Iowa is no longer underrated.
Here’s the deal with the Hawkeyes: they rank 5th in the country in points per game, 6th in rebounds per game and 13th in assists per game. As a result, their offensive rating is an impressive 120.61, which is better than all but five teams.
Though they’re known for their offense, Iowa still can get it done defensively, ranking 34th in the country.
Their record shows that they’re a team just as strong as Ohio State, but the analytics tell a different story. Iowa, to us, is the country’s fifth-best squad, a significant margin from their current 24 rank.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys
AP Rank: Unranked
nERD Rank: 7
Two words: Marcus Smart.
Question his antics all you want – Smart is for real, and he’s leading the most underrated team in college basketball.
Oklahoma State’s season is a tale of three chunks. They started strong, losing just one game through the end of 2013. And then late January hit, as the team lost seven straight games through Smart’s three-game suspension. But they’re now back on track and have won four consecutive contests, including one over our third nERDiest team, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Led by Smart’s 17.6 points, 4.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game, Oklahoma State has the ninth-best offensive rating in the entire country. And things really aren’t much worse on the defensive side, where they rank 21st.
Their streaky play and 10 losses have forced us to believe they’ll be somewhere around a 10 or 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But don’t be fooled – Oklahoma State will be a team to watch in March and April.