The 10 Most Overrated Teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament
It's always tough to step back and examine the 68 teams good enough to make the NCAA Tournament and then pinpoint which of them are not as good as perception, but when we're building our brackets, we have to discuss some hard truths.
We know that not all 5 seeds, for example, are equally good, and figuring out which teams don't really live up to their seeds will help us build better brackets and identify upset opportunities.
So I compared each tournament team's nERD score -- the point differential that our algorithm would expect a team to beat (or lose to) an average team by on a neutral court -- to the historical average nERD of their granted seed. This will let us see which 5 seeds aren't as strong as historical 5 seeds, for example.
To keep this as impactful as possible, I'll shed the 11 seeds and worse from the conversation. Not all of these teams are drastically overrated, necessarily, but they have the largest gaps between the historical seed average.
10. Clemson Tigers (7 Seed, Midwest)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.07
The Clemson Tigers had a short-lived ACC Tournament stint, as they lost to the Miami Hurricanes 67-64. Miami ranks just 133rd in our power rankings, so it wasn't the best loss for the Tigers. Clemson has a top-20 adjusted defense by both KenPom and Sports-Reference but sit 75th or worse in adjusted offensive rating on both sites. Despite the sayings about defense, offense is a key component in March.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers (3 Seed, Midwest)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.17
This is a strange one because the West Virginia Mountaineers boast a top-13 adjusted offensive efficiency rating on KenPom and Sports-Reference and played the best schedule in the country. Their defense is top-65, as well.
But here's the thing: there's a lot of parity in the nERD ratings this year, and the Mountaineers are actually the best 3 seed in the tournament (meaning the others are all ahead of them on the list). They just aren't quite as strong as your usual 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and that's what we're trying to identify here.
8. Arkansas Razorbacks (3 Seed, South)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.25
The Arkansas Razorbacks are another 3 seed that isn't as strong as what we typically see in the tournament. They're a balanced team with a top-35 offense and a top-15 defense, via KenPom, and they -- like West Virginia -- played a tough schedule. It's less about how they shape up relative to the field and more about how they shape up to historical 3 seeds.
Arkansas lost to LSU, 32nd in our power rankings, in the SEC Tournament 78-71. It's understandable, but it again speaks to some parity this year.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (3 Seed, West)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.27
A third straight 3 seed to dissect. The Kansas Jayhawks are a good team anchored by a stout, top-10 adjusted defense that really led them down the stretch.
However, the Kansas defense could be a bit inflated. Opponents have shot only 32.6% from the three-point line against them this season, ranking 117th in the nation, but they have not been that good at preventing threes: they're 185th in three-point attempt rate against. So they've been about average at limiting threes but have had some good luck at getting bricks put up against them.
6. Florida State Seminoles (4 Seed, East)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.34
The Florida State Seminoles boast a top-15 adjusted offense that ranks 44th in effective field goal percentage (54.4%) while relying heavily on shots inside the arc (they're 227th in three-point attempt rate).
Their nERD of 11.88 puts them, historically, between a 6 and 7 seed (closer to a 7 seed, even). They're our 23rd-ranked team, so even by a rankings-only look for this year specifically, they're a little overrated.
5. Florida Gators (7 Seed, South)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.44
The Florida Gators had three games postponed and not played in mid-February due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests and precautions. After that break, they went just 4-4 and ended the season 1-3 with a loss to Missouri (51st in our rankings) and two losses to Tennessee (14th in our rankings).
They're just 47th in our power rankings, so they pale in comparison to historical 7 seeds and this individual year, as well.
4. Texas Longhorns (3 Seed, East)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.62
A 19-7 record (73.1% win rate) against a strong schedule was enough to get the Texas Longhorns a 3 seed in the East Region, but that should imply they're a top-12 team (or close to it). They're 20th in our power rankings and 26th in KenPom's power rankings. Sports-Reference's adjusted net rating pits them 25th in the nation.
Their nERD score suggests they're more like a historical 6 seed.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys (4 Seed, Midwest)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.66
An adjusted offense outside the top-50 isn't that appealing for a team to make a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, so that's a bit of a drawback with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They're a better defense than they are offense.
Anchored by the 6'8", 220-pound Cade Cunningham, who is ESPN's top overall NBA Draft prospect, the Cowboys have some key wins this year. Despite them, they're just our 25th-ranked team.
2. Virginia Cavaliers (4 Seed, West)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.89
With an 11.33 nERD, the Virginia Cavaliers are a bottom-eight 4 seed by nERD since 2000. nERD prefers Oklahoma State to Virginia, but that's definitely not the consensus, as the Cavaliers are 11th in adjusted net rating and 11th in KenPom's ranks, too.
We rank them 31st in the nation. They lost by 21 to Florida State (23rd in our rankings), by 1 to Duke (50th), and by 7 to North Carolina State (63rd) before ripping off three straight wins against Miami (133rd), Louisville (53rd), and Syracuse (43rd) -- so it makes sense that nERD isn't a huge fan of their chances to repeat.
1. Baylor Bears (1 Seed, South)
nERD vs. Seed Average: -2.99
This is a strange year. The Baylor Bears are fifth in our power rankings and fourth for KenPom. They're also fifth in adjusted net rating. So even if you consider them fifth overall, to say they're straight up "overrated" as a 1 seed is a little unfair. But they do rank nearly three full points worse than the historical 1 seed since 2000.
The average 2 seed nERD is 16.38, though, so they're even a tinge below that mark. They're, naturally, the weakest 1 seed in the tournament but also face the toughest overall region ahead of them.