The 5 Worst At-Large Teams in the NCAA Tournament
Folks have been sending disgruntled tweets about UCLA since this year's NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed last night. To many, UCLA wasn't deserving of making the big dance. Their season-long resume, according to almost everyone, didn't exactly portray a tournament-worthy team.
This isn't false. But the funny thing about the NCAA Tournament is that once you're in, your resume doesn't matter. Your talent -- your actual performance -- does. And although their resume wasn't fantastic, according to our nERD metric, which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court, UCLA wasn't really close to the worst at-large team in this year's NCAA Tournament.
They were the ninth worst, hardly something we should be upset about.
Which teams were actually the worst at-large squads to make the tournament? Let's take a look, counting down from five (the fifth worst) to one (this year's Mr. Irrelevant).
5. Indiana Hoosiers
nERD Rank: 45
Tournament Seed: 10
The Hoosiers got a rough Round of 64 contest to open up with against 7-seeded Wichita State, as the Shockers are one of the more underseeded teams in this year's tournament. Perhaps their opponent doesn't matter though, because Indiana is one of the worst at-large teams in this year's tournament.
Indiana has won just 5 of their last 14 games, with victories coming against Michigan, Rutgers twice, Northwestern and Minnesota. For those counting, none of those teams are dancing. The team's biggest win was against an overrated Maryland Terps squad back in January, but we're fooling ourselves if we think this Indiana basketball team is playing the same ball they were at the start of the season.
Offensively, the Hoosiers are really strong -- they rank 11th in efficiency all while running at a fairly fast pace. A backcourt duo of Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. -- averaging 16.1 and 15.8 points per game, respectively -- can be tough to beat.
But Indiana's not difficult to overcome because their defense is really not good, finishing the season ranked 298th in points against, 207th in blocks, 310th in steals and 247th in overall efficiency.
It was surprising to see the committee so bullish about them.
4. Dayton Flyers
nERD Rank: 47
Tournament Seed: 11
According to the selection committee, Dayton was the last at-large team to make the big dance. Our numbers sort of agree with the logic, as we have the Flyers as the 47th-best team in the country.
Dayton will beat you with defense, with a unit that ranks 30th in the country in efficiency, per our metrics, and 44th in Defensive Rating. But the offense is a different story, finishing 91st in the country according to our numbers. Dayton, too, has rebounding issues, ranking 211st in the nation in rebounding rate this year and 300th in rebounds per game. An 83rd-ranked strength of schedule doesn't help things, either.
A tough aspect with Dayton and the NCAA Tournament, too, is that they're one of the least consistent teams remaining. Among the field of 68, only 10 teams are more predictable game in and game out.
Fortunately for the Flyers, their play-in partner, Boise State, makes this list too. More on them in a second.
3. Cincinnati Bearcats
nERD Rank: 51
Tournament Seed: 8
The Bearcats enter the NCAA Tournament with two wins against SMU, their biggest of the season. Like most solid Cincinnati teams, this one is good on defense, ranking 30th in the country in Defensive Rating, allowing the sixth-fewest points per game in the country.
Like Dayton, though, Cincinnati struggles offensively. Their snail-like pace produced just 62.4 points per game this year, but the pace wasn't the problem -- per our numbers, Cincinnati had the 116th-ranked offense in the country this season.
An opening game against Purdue isn't at all a bad draw for an overrated Cincinnati team, but our numbers do like the Boilermakers a little more thanks to their balance.
2. Oregon Ducks
nERD Rank: 53
Tournament Seed: 8
Offensively, Oregon is strong, ranking 44th in the nation in efficiency thanks to the play of Pac-12 Player of the Year, Joseph Young. But the Ducks have allowed almost 71 points per game this year to go along with their 172-ranked, according to our numbers, defense. The average nERD in this year's tournament is 9.66, meaning Oregon is a below-average squad in the dance.
Oregon didn't get the worst first-round matchup in the dance though, as their small size should be fine against Oklahoma State. But it'll be interesting to see how the tempo of the game moves, as Oregon likes to speed things up while Oklahoma State ranks in the bottom half among tournament teams in pace.
1. Boise State Broncos
nERD Rank: 54
Tournament Seed: 11
Alas, the worst at-large team in this year's tournament is Boise State, who will face off against Dayton in an opening round contest.
At first glance, the Broncos rank in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But among the at-large teams, none played an easier schedule than Boise State, easily the biggest problem our numbers have with them.
The Broncos do have decent size, and nearly four players who average double figures, including Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Derrick Marks. They've also only lost twice since January 13th, which is surely a big reason the committee voted them in.
Perhaps there's a chance they surprise considering they've mostly done what they should have over the second half of the season. But because of their schedule strength, it's tough for our numbers to get excited.