March Madness: The 5 Fastest NCAA Tournament Teams in the Field of 68
College basketball is a unique sport all its own, and one of the main reasons why is style of play. It is one of many factors that come into play throughout the season, but it's even more evident from here on out as unfamiliar opponents clash in the Big Dance.
While some coaches prefer a slow, grind-it-out pace (like Virginia's Tony Bennett and Wisconsin's Greg Gard), others like to get up and down the floor, let their talented players operate in space, and imitate the uptempo NBA offenses we see today. In recent years, the contrast in styles has been on full display.
There are a number of sources for points per game and pace (possessions per game), but two of the best measures are KenPom.com's adjusted tempo -- which is taken over 40 minutes and accounts for opponent -- and our own in-house percentile ranks, which give a more raw idea of how quickly a team plays in comparison to the rest of the country.
To give you some baselines, the average adjusted tempo for all teams was 68.5 possessions per 40 minutes this season, with Virginia holding down the lowest mark at 60.1 and 9-13 Coppin State (not in the tournament) topping all teams at 77.1. By percentile, Virginia sits in the 2nd percentile and Coppin State the 100th percentile along with only one other team. So, the higher the pace, the higher the percentile (and closer a team is to 1.000), which basically says that a team in the 95th percentile operates at a pace faster than 95% of all NCAA teams.
However, we have to note that teams like Coppin State aren't exactly successful in their approach. There are teams that have managed to do more damage with their speed, though, and those are the ones that have cracked the field this year. We'll examine and evaluate them using their efficiency ranks -- on both offense and defense -- and the consistency (our measure of a team's predictability from game-to-game) with which they play.
For all these reasons, these five uptempo teams are those to either favor or watch out for when filling out your brackets.
5. Colgate Raiders (14 Seed, South Region)
Adjusted Tempo: 72.5
nF Percentile Rank: .657
The Colgate Raiders posted a 14-1 record and won the Patriot League title behind star guard Jordan Burns. Expect the ball to be in Burns' hands throughout the game, as he's posting an eye-popping 31.7% usage rate. The senior guard is the catalyst behind the Raiders' fast-paced offense. The Raiders are 25th in adjusted tempo via KenPom. Their average length of possession lasts only 15.9 seconds.
Expect the Raiders to bomb away from behind the arc. As a team, they're knocking down a mind-boggling 40.0% of their deep balls. Only two teams in the country are more successful from behind the three-point line than Colgate, via KenPom.
Colgate draws the 3 seed Arkansas Razorbacks in the first round (more on that below). The Razorbacks are also a team that loves to engage in a fast-paced game. From an entertainment perspective, this game is must-see television, as there should be a ton of scoring.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks (3 Seed, South Region)
Adjusted Tempo: 73.1
nF Percentile Rank: .761
As noted above, the Razorbacks and Colgate game should play at a blazing pace. Interestingly, the last three teams that have defeated Arkansas all rank within the top 80 of KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings. This is probably due to the fact that opponents want to avoid Arkansas' half court defense. When Arkansas can set the defense, they're nearly impenetrable and rank 14th in defensive efficiency, via KenPom.
On the flip side, Arkansas ranks fifth nationally in points per game (82.4). That could spell major trouble for Colgate, as only nine NCAA tournament-bound teams rank worse in defensive efficiency than Colgate (140th nationally, via KenPom).
3. Winthrop Eagles (12 Seed, South Region)
Adjusted Tempo: 73.6
nF Percentile Rank: .662
The Winthrop Eagles had an incredible season, as they posted a 23-1 record while winning the Big South Conference. Shooting early and often is the key to their success. The Eagles average only 14.9 seconds per possession, which ranks eighth nationally, via KenPom. They also are efficient on the offensive end of the court, as they rank 54th in effective field goal percentage.
From a stylistic standpoint, the Eagles draw their polar opposite, the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats are intent on slowing down the pace of the game. Villanova ranks in the 43rd percentile in pace via our nERD-based rankings.
Winthrop will try to speed the game up with Villanova's star point guard Collin Gillespie sidelined. The Wildcats are on upset alert after losing three out of their final four games this season. All three losses were to teams ranked 55th or worse in KenPom's rankings (Winthrop is 91st).
2. Alabama Crimson Tide (2 Seed, East Region)
Adjusted Tempo: 73.9
nF Percentile Rank: .741
Nate Oates teams have always loved to push the gas pedal on offense. In six seasons, Oates' teams (four seasons at Buffalo and two at Alabama) have all finished in the top 40 nationally in adjusted tempo. The scary part is that this year's Crimson Tide squad is also playing lockdown defense. They've improved 112 spots in adjusted defense since last season (114th to 2nd).
Fresh off winning the SEC Championship, the Crimson Tide will look to run their way to the Final Four. However, they may not draw a team willing to run up and down the court until the Elite 8 or later.
Alabama draws the MAAC champions, the Iona Gaels, in the first round. While the Gaels rank below the Division I average in adjusted tempo via KenPom (68.3 possessions while the Division I average is 68.5), they play exponentially faster than either of Alabama's potential second round opponents (winner of the 7/10 game), the Maryland Terrapins and the Connecticut Huskies. Both Maryland and Connecticut rank 301st or lower in adjusted tempo out of 357 Division I teams.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1 Seed, West Region)
Adjusted Tempo: 88.8
nF Percentile Rank: .748
With freshman phenom Jalen Suggs running the point, the Bulldogs rank second (nationally) in average length of possession (14.1 seconds) and fourth in adjusted tempo. It's not surprising that the Gonzaga Bulldogs love to push the tempo considering they lead the county in offensive efficiency, via KenPom.
Still, it is quite difficult to keep up with this Mark Few-led squad averaging 92.1 points per game -- the most in the country by nearly 6 full points -- with four players averaging at least 11.8 points a game.
Trying to engage with Gonzaga in a track meet doesn't figure to work out well. The Bulldogs are ranked 10th (nationally) in defensive efficiency. They've beaten 25 out of their 26 opponents by at least 10 points. The lone exception is the West Virginia Mountaineers, which received a 3 seed.