How Far Can the Kansas Jayhawks Go in the NCAA Tournament?
Around this time of year, the conjecture about which teams will go far in the NCAA Tournament kicks into high gear.
Everyone seems to find reasons for their teams to be seeded highly and go far, and most of these arguments center around qualitative arguments or incomplete statistical analysis.
At numberFire, we have lots of advanced analytics at our disposal to put the conjecture aside with the attempt to answer questions such as the one I'm posing today: How far can the 2015 Kansas Jayhawks go in the NCAA Tournament?
To answer this question, it's essential to put some context around the question.
The Kansas Jayhawks (24-6, 13-4 Big 12) just won their 11th straight Big 12 conference championship, a conference we rank as the best in college basketball by a wide margin. They rank ninth in the Associated Press Poll, and find themselves 10th in our power rankings. In our most recent bracketology , we have Kansas as a top seed, based mainly on having the toughest ranked schedule and a high RPI.
How does this Kansas team stack up against some of some of the best teams in the country this year?
The 2015 Jayhawks have a nERD of 15.98, which ranks 10th among college basketball teams. For those of you who aren't aware, nERD is our in-house efficiency metric that shows what we'd expect a particular team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.
In spite of Kansas being a 1 seed in our bracketology, teams such as Villanova (currently a 2 seed and fifth in our power rankings) would be expected to beat Kansas by 2.41 points on a neutral court. Arizona, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga -- all pegged as 2 seeds right now -- have even wider nERD margins over the Jayhawks, as do the underrated Utah Utes.
As Kansas is always in the mix for getting a high seed by virtue of winning a power conference, historical nERD can shed some light on how good this current version of the Jayhawks are and what type of seed we can expect for them. For those who want to speculate on how far the 2015 team may go in the NCAA Tournament, I've included all the results for every Kansas team in the Bill Self era, sorted by nERD ranking.
|Year||nERD||Final Record||Seed||NCAA Tournament Result|
|2008||21.97||37-3||#1||Beat #1 Memphis in National Championship|
|2010||20.57||33-3||#1||Lost to #9 Northern Iowa in Second Round|
|2011||19.14||35-3||#1||Lost to #11 VCU in Regional Final|
|2007||18.05||33-5||#1||Lost to #2 UCLA in Regional Fina|
|2012||17.37||32-7||#2||Lost to #1 Kentucky in National Championship|
|2013||16.95||31-6||#1||Lost to #4 Michigan in Regional Semifinal|
|2014||16.84||25-10||#2||Lost to #10 Stanford in Second Round|
|2005||16.36||23-7||#3||Lost to #14 Bucknell in First Round|
|2015||15.98||TBD||TBD||To Be Determined|
|2009||15.73||27-8||#3||Lost to #2 Michigan State in Regional Semifinal|
|2006||15.46||25-8||#4||Lost to #13 Bradley in First Round|
|2004||13.99||24-9||#4||Lost to #3 Georgia Tech in Regional Final|
From the table above, no Kansas team under Self has received lower than a 4 seed, which is why we deemed them the best regular season team of the past decade.
In terms of potential foreshadowing for March Madness, teams under Self with a similar nERD didn't move past the Sweet 16. Now, let's delve deeper into some statistics that can shed some more light on this Jayhawks team's potential.
A Final Four Formula
Yesterday, our Bryan Mears wrote an article that showed the main components of a Final Four team. This year's Kansas team falls short in all three predictive categories, which include ranking in the top 10 in Pythagorean Rating (Kansas ranks 12th), adjusted offensive rank (18th), and adjusted defensive rank (14th), all according to kenpom.com. Last year's team, a 2 seed that lost to Stanford in the second round, finished 12th in Pythagorean Rating, 14th in adjusted offensive rank and 31st in adjusted defensive rank.
Falling short of those components highlights that a Final Four may not be in the cards for the Jayhawks, as 80% of the teams that have made the Final Four since 2002 have finished in the Top 10 in at least one of the categories above.
When you peel the onion and look into 2015 stats, this Kansas team just doesn't jump off the page in any statistical category. Their best rankings, according to sports-reference.com, are in blocked shots and rebounding (23rd and 24th, respectively). They also turn the ball over frequently (rank 202nd in turnovers and 234th in causing turnovers), which makes things hard in a one game scenario when they are not hitting shots. Their 44.3% field goal percentage ranks 122nd among NCAA teams.
At their core, this is a very young team that doesn't play any seniors in its rotation and features freshmen and sophomores in the backcourt. Junior forward Perry Ellis is their best player, averaging 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game (19.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes). However, Ellis missed most of last night's West Virginia game with a sprained knee and will likely miss a week . If Ellis' injury ends up being more significant, this would be a huge blow to the Jayhawks potential tournament success, as was the loss of Joel Embiid for their 2014 NCAA Tournament run.
They have also recently been missing 6'8" freshman forward and former McDonald's All-American Cliff Alexander (7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game), who is currently the subject of an NCAA eligibility investigation.
We've looked at several metrics and taken a historical perspective. In a year where Kentucky is dominant and teams like Virginia and Arizona are very strong defensively, this Kansas team has again won the toughest conference in college basketball while having played the toughest schedule. Though they don't play offense or defense at an exceptional level, winning the Big 12 and having such a strong strength of schedule will be rewarded by the tournament committee in a few weeks.
However, regardless of what seed they land, comparing this Kansas team to other teams in the Bill Self era, you'd have to think optimistically to see them get past the Sweet 16. Taking into account advanced historical metrics, the Final Four seems even more remote.