The 4 NCAA Tourney Big Names to Fall Early
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There's that guy in every single bracket pool. Hopefully, you aren't the one. He's the guy that picks North Carolina to go all the way every year because, "Oh, I've heard of them before, and they're good!"
If you're a numbers person, you know what's wrong with this. Heck, even if you're not a numbers person and have a small idea about how college works, you'll realize what's wrong. These teams change every single year. Most people who aren't Van Wilder graduate after a while. And since the teams change, you need to reevaluate how you look at a team every year.
Sure, some long-term trends usually emerge: big name teams continually stay up because of recruiting and coaching. However, every once in a while, big names will fall. And when they do, it's absolutely spectacular.
Predicting those falls is half the fun. Here are our top four bets to play Icarus and experience a fall from grace this Tourney.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Look, I'm not one to typically criticize the selection committee. Actually, that's a complete lie; I totally am. But even those who respect their work would have to pause a bit at making Illinois a 7 seed.
The Illini ranked a barely-above-average No. 159 in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency this season, allowing 99.69 points per 100 possessions. To place that in perspective, that placed them fourth among teams that had "Illinois" in their school name; Western Illinois, UIC, and Southern Illinois all had better defensive efficiencies. The Illini's offense couldn't make up the slack either, finishing just No. 93 in Division I.
10 seed Colorado isn't exactly a powerhouse, as their offensive efficiency sat at a sad No. 128 at the end of the season. However, in allowing just 95.32 points per 100 possessions, the Buffaloes' No. 68 defense could be the key to a first round 7-10 game upset.
Kansas State Wildcats
To be fair, Kansas State is actually a pretty good team. Unlike the other guys on this list, the Wildcats are in the top 20 percent of Division I teams in both opponent-adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. It's just that they have the upset potential of Chris Brown at the Grammy's. Good luck getting them to rise to the occasion.
Kansas State's efficiency ratings have produced a standard deviation of 12.46 this season, which might not mean much until you realize that it's in the bottom third of standard deviations among NCAA Division I teams. That means that they're consistent: they won't play down to bad teams, but they won't play up to better teams, either. That was reflected in the regular season: K-State went 3-6 against teams in the top 25 at gametime (only beating Florida and Oklahoma State twice), but they went 24-1 against teams outside the top 25.
Their consistency should help them against the winner of the Boise State/La Salle play-in game: neither one has a defensive efficiency in the top third of NCAA Division I teams. However, with a potential second-round matchup against tough Wisconsin looming (or even the upset potential of Ole Miss), I wouldn't expect Kansas State to raise their game much past what you'll see in the first matchup.
I can see that guy now. "Butler's that team from Hoosiers, right? No? Oh, well they're the one who made the Finals like three years ago or something, huh? Yeah? Cool, they're totally getting to the Final Four."
Luckily, this guy isn't you, because you now know the numbers behind the Bulldogs. And this season, they aren't very pretty. Butler sits just No. 127 in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency at 98.24 points allowed per 100 possessions and No. 64 in offensive efficiency at 108.77 points allowed per 100 possessions. In net points per possession, Butler sits just 72nd in the country. In that particular stat, they sit directly ahead of Utah State, Maryland, Vermont, and something called NJIT.
Contrast this with Bucknell, and you'll be ready to run for the hills. The Bison actually have the Bulldogs topped in both points scored and points allowed per possession: their offensive efficiency is No. 61 while their defensive efficiency is a red-hot No. 29. You may remember Bucknell as the team that knocked off Kansas a few years ago; they've been here before as a program. This time, though, it may be the become the new Butler by taking the current King off the throne.
Marquette Golden Eagles
There are some things in life that genuinely perplex me. Why does Courtney Stodden exist as a human being? Why does Irish soda bread taste so much better than regular bread? And how exactly did Marquette finish tied for the best record in the Big East this season?
The Golden Eagles sit No. 108 in Division I defensive efficiency with 97.46 points allowed per 100 possessions, an only slightly better No. 52 in offensive efficiency at 109.14 points scored per 100 possessions, and a consistency rating of only 46.1 percent effectiveness according to our metrics. It's not good when the three teams directly ahead of you in net opponent-adjusted points per possession are South Dakota State, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Davidson should present an unusually tough matchup for a 14-seed; after adjusting for opponents the Wildcats are No. 16 in offensive efficiency and No. 73 in defensive efficiency this season. From there, Marquette would play either Butler or Bucknell. If I were Marquette, I might want to see the six seed; see our Butler section above. Either way, it's going to be a bumpy road for the Wisconsinites.