Bracket Help: Most Overrated Teams
Here at numberFire, bracket help is our business! It's March Madness, the time of year where everyone joins up in an office pool and attempts to take down the company-wide pool. But what are you supposed to do when you don't know your Duke Blue Devils from your Delaware Blue Hens?
At numberFire, we’re not all that concerned with how the general public perceives a team or a player. Instead, we use our algorithms to build out and show what’s actually going on in the sports world, no subjectivity attached.
A lot of folks will look at current AP poll standings to judge how well a team is performing. And while that can certainly be telling, the standings don’t always agree with what we – our numbers – say.
You see, we use a metric at numberFire called nERD, which, for college basketball purposes, 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.
Because we have this nERD data, we can judge how the numbers would rank the best college basketball teams. And, naturally, our rankings don’t match up exactly to the AP’s standings.
The idea here is pretty simple: If a team is ranked high in the current standings but low in terms of nERD, that team is deemed overrated. The five squads below saw the largest discrepancy between the two ranking systems.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats
AP Rank: 11
nERD Rank: 23
The Bearcats are sitting pretty as the 11th-best team in the country, but our numbers think Cincinnati plays more like a 23rd-ranked team, despite their recent competitive game against the second-nERDiest squad, Louisville.
Cincinnati can kill you with their defense, and their sixth-ranked DRtg shows just that. However, the team, led by Sean Kilpatrick, ranks 75th in the country in offensive rating, worse than teams like Colorado State and Seton Hall.
The Bearcats boast impressive wins against former Big East foes Louisville and Pitt, but their victory over Memphis isn’t as remarkable as you’d think, as the team ranks 36th according to our metrics.
Perhaps Cincinnati would find themselves off of this list had they swept Louisville this year, but for now, they’re one of the more overrated ranked teams in the country.
4. Florida Gators
AP Rank: 1
nERD Rank: 14
Any team ranked number one in the country is going to struggle living up to the grade, as there’s no room for error. But you’d at least expect them to put up a better nERD score than the 13th-best one.
Ranking in the top spot for the first time since 2007, Florida has the ninth-best Net Rating of all teams in the country, boasting a defense that ranks eighth and an offensive rating that ranks 21st. It’s not bad when you put it all together, but we’re not overly impressed with their notable wins (outside of Kansas and Kentucky), and shouldn’t the best team in the country, you know, be the best team in the country?
We do think the Gators will end up as a one seed, as we’ve got them projected to maybe lose one more game. However, come tournament time, they may be a risky team to move deep in your bracket.
3. Syracuse Orange
AP Rank: 4
nERD Rank: 19
Full disclosure: I’m a Pitt graduate, so listing Syracuse on here does nothing but make me smile (somewhat of jealousy). However, I wouldn’t put the Orange on this list if they didn’t deserve to be on it – the whole point of this article is to be objective, after all.
After starting the year 25-0 – including two horrifically difficult wins for me to suffer through as a Pitt alum – the Orange have dropped two of three, including one to our 140th-ranked team in terms of nERD, Boston College.
Boheim’s team plays a suffocating defensive style (rank 15th in DRtg), and as a result, they’ve seen the fourth-fewest possessions per game in the nation. And while they’re offensive rating is nearly as strong as their defensive one, the reason they rank so low in terms of nERD could be strength of schedule and notable wins based.
A December win against Villanova was big, and they beat North Carolina, too, albeit before the Tar Heels got hot. An overtime win against Duke helps their case as well, but when it’s all said and done, Syracuse has faced the 43rd-strongest schedule, and they’ve played in a ton of tight games.
Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair will be tough to bet against come tournament time, but the numbers say that the Orange aren’t nearly as good as their AP standing dictates.
2. Wichita State Shockers
AP Rank: 2
nERD Rank: 20
Perhaps you’re shocked to see Wichita State here (see what I did there?), as they haven’t lost a single contest all year. But with a 15.41 nERD, we see Wichita State as an identically good team as the UConn Huskies at this point in the season.
How is that possible? Well, I think it’s obvious that we’re a little cautious because of their strength of schedule, one that ranks 124th in the nation. As a result, they haven’t really beaten anyone, ironically outside of our top overrated team.
The team plays solid defense though, allowing the 15th-fewest points in college basketball this year, posting a DRtg just outside of the top 20. The biggest question with any mid-major team is how they’ll perform against the big dogs come tournament time. Given our numbers, we’re not in love with Wichita State’s chances.
1. St. Louis Billikens
AP Rank: 10
nERD Rank: 34
Wichita State’s only big win came against St. Louis, a team our numbers seem to think is probably the most overrated in the country.
St. Louis currently sits ahead of teams like Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan in the standings, but our nERD scores indicate that any of those teams would beat the Billikens (still the weirdest mascot ever) by five to seven points on a neutral court.
They guard the three very well, and rank fifth in college hoops in defensive rating. However, their offensive rating of 104.89 is worse than Lafayette (10-18) and Youngstown State (15-15), leaving a lot to be desired on that end of the floor.
They’ve had their opportunities this season to come through with a big win – they played Wisconsin back in November and lost by six, and lost to Wichita State in December by five. With those two loses combined with a strength of schedule that’s weaker than any of the aforementioned teams, St. Louis is our most overrated team, though we do expect them to find themselves as a three seed come tournament time.