March Madness: Four Majors That Are Sleeping Giants

Russ Smith and Louisville: A Sleeping Giant?

Brackets live and die by the upset, but upsets are two-sided. You want to make sure you pick the mid-major capable of a true Giant Killing - hello, Providence - but also make sure you don't overlook a strong Major that is underrated by traditional Bracketology logic.

We here at numberFire do things by the book: the math book. We don't care about how many rebounds you have or how many steals you can scrounge up; we care about efficiency. We care about effectiveness. We dig into the numbers, create our own statistics, and, well, at the risk of sounding a big haughty, we understand these teams better than anyone. We know that Syracuse is overrated, and we know there these four Majors are sleeping giants - their seeds don't reflect how strong they really are.

For this exercise, we'll be using nERD: the numberFire Efficiency Ratings Derivative. The name is apropos.

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Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State - now there's a team that has courted some controversy. Everyone knows the story of Marcus Smart and the fan, but not everyone knows the story of Oklahoma State and the superior offensive efficiency. With offensive and defensive efficiency both in the top 50, Oklahoma State scores a nERD of 14.90, giving them a power ranking of #13, which profiles them as a #4 seed. Instead, they're seeded #9 and will make Arizona's life very difficult in Round 2.


Sort of a forgotten asset in the deep Big Ten, Iowa is a much better team than you'd expect from a squad that lost to Northwestern at home. With five wins in the RPI top 50 and a offensive efficiency ranking of #8, this is a team that can score consistently and is much better than one of the last few teams in. Iowa scores a nERD of 14.21, which profiles them as a strong #5 seed - don't sleep on the Hawkeyes.

And while we're talking about Iowa..

While the analysts will go back and forth on whether or not Tennessee deserved to make the cut, we know better. We know that despite a horrifically slow pace, they have a very strong profile - ranking in the top 50 on both sides of the ball - and profile out a as a #6 seed. Everyone loves to speculate on the 5-12 and 6-11 upset; look for the Volunteers to strike one for the SEC.


This one should be no surprise to anyone who follows NCAA hoops - Pittsburgh, year after year, is the favorite school of computers and algorithms everyone. We all know that in reality they've been disappointing year in and year out, but you have to keep beating the drum: Pittsburgh is an analytically strong team, with fantastic offensive efficiency despite a massively inconsistent season. They should be a #5 seed by nERD; instead they're a #9 seed. Is this the year Pittsburgh flips the script and beats Florida, someone they're suppose to lose to?


A 4 seed. A 4 seed?! Are you kidding? They're power-ranked #2 by nERD and while they're in a brutal region in terms of strength, they've got an excellent chance of beating Wichita State - provided they can beat their in-state rivals in Kentucky. This is a #1 seed on the 4-line; that is ridiculous.

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