The Fastest and Slowest Teams in This Year's NCAA Tournament
Basketball is a game of tempo and matchups: Two opposing teams trying to exploit the other’s weakness while dictating the pace of the game. Here are five teams in the tournament who like to play fast and five who like to play in the half-court, according to the numberFire pace rankings.
Five FastestBrigham Young, 99th percentile, 10 Seed
BYU was the seventh-fastest team in college basketball this year, and play at the fastest pace of any team in the tournament. The Cougars averaged 84.2 points per game this year, third-most in the country. Their first-round matchup is against the seventh-seeded Ducks of Oregon, who also like to run. Oregon’s pace was in the 87th percentile, allowing them to score 81.8 points per game. Both teams are among the nations best in offensive efficiency while playing average defense, so expect the game to be a shootout.Iowa State, 97th percentile, 3 Seed
The Cyclones play like their nickname suggests: fast and relentless. As the 10th-fastest team in the nation, they combine offensive efficiency (90.3%) with consistency (93.0%). Their 82.9 points per game ranked sixth among all teams, while leading the nation in 18.5 assists per contest. However, they face a 14th-seeded North Carolina Central team who had the second-best defensive efficiency in the country this year. This looks to be the closest matchup of all the 3 vs. 14 seeds as a result, with the line currently at ISU -8.5.Oklahoma, 97th percentile, 5 Seed
Oklahoma plays fast, and they combine that pace with a strong offensive efficiency. The Sooners play at the third-highest pace among teams in the tournament, and they combine that with the 28th-best offense in the nation. This combination leads to 82.2 points per game, seventh-most this year. In their first-round matchup, Oklahoma will be facing 12th-seeded North Dakota State. North Dakota State will look to play in the half-court (18.5% pace), but when they have the ball, watch out - NDSU was the fourth-best team this year in offensive efficiency.Massachusetts, 95th percentile, 6 Seed
While most believe UMass received a generous seed, one thing is undeniable: the Minutemen love to run. Unlike most teams that play at a high pace though, UMass isn’t all that efficient on offense: they ranked 126th this year on that side of the court, but 40th on defense. One of the most inconsistent teams in the nation (7.3%), UMass will need to dictate the pace and lock down on defense to advance out of the first round.Louisiana Lafayette, 95th percentile, 14 Seed
Playing fast can be both good and bad. For the Ragin’ Cajuns, nothing reflects this more than the difference between when they have the ball and when they are on defense. ULL played at the 18th-fastest pace in the nation this year, and their offensive efficiency ranked 33rd. But their defense also ranked just 135th. The committee did them no favors by giving them a matchup against the most efficient team on offense in college basketball this year, the Creighton Bluejays. Expect a high scoring game, with Vegas setting the O/U at 154.5, the second-highest total in the first round.
Five SlowestVirginia, 1st percentile, 1 Seed
The top seed in the East Region also plays at the slowest pace among all teams in the tournament. The Cavaliers use this slow pace to lock down their opponents, allowing a nation’s low 55.3 points per game. Their fifth-best defensive efficiency should be no match against a Coastal Carolina team that ranked 194th on offense this year. The O/U on this game is 121.5 points, the second-lowest of the first round.Syracuse, 1st percentile, 3 Seed
Like Virginia, 'Cuse uses a methodical pace to suffocate their opponents. The Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone ranked 14th this year in defensive efficiency, and held teams to just 59.5 points per game. Syracuse uses this zone to create turnovers, leading to eight steals and five blocks a game. Western Michigan will need to be at their best to upset Syracuse in the first round.American, 2nd percentile, 15 Seed
American University is an example of a team who uses a slow pace to make up for their offensive deficiencies. The theory goes something like this: If you are a poor offensive team, play at a slow pace to limit the number of possessions in a game. In doing so, you give yourself the best chance at winning. The Eagles have taken this to heart, combining a slow pace with a poor offense (44th percentile) to average just 63.9 points per game, 316th-lowest among 349 D1 teams. However, this slow pace combined with the 23rd-most efficient defense allows American to stay in most games.Pittsburgh, 7th percentile, 9 Seed
It’s very rare to see a ninth-seeded team have so much going for them: The Panthers had 24th-most efficient offense and the 35th-most efficient defense in basketball this year. Their nERD rating of 14.13 is indicative of a team much more qualified than their seeding would suggest. Pitt combined this efficient style of play with a very slow tempo, limiting opponents to just 62.4 points per game. The eighth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes will need to play their best to avoid the upset.Tennessee, 8th percentile, 11 Seed (Play-In)
Tennessee are in the play-in game on Wednesday night, and they face an opponent in Iowa who play on the opposite end of the pace spectrum. While Tennessee likes to bring the game to a crawl, look for Iowa to get out on the break and run. The Volunteers combine this slow pace with efficient offense (92.5%) and defense (91%). If Tennessee beats Iowa, they will get a matchup against sixth seeded UMass, who we profiled above as one of the fastest teams in the tournament.