The Most Likely 5-12 Upsets in the 2013 NCAA Tourney
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Last season, both South Florida and VCU advanced past the first round (OK, second round, thanks NCAA) as a 12-seed. The year before, Richmond accomplished the feat. Before that it was Cornell. You'd have to go back five years, to 2007, to find the last time that at least one 12-seed didn't win one game.
Because we're all nerds here, I'll go ahead and say it: that's pretty darn statistically significant.
With Oregon and California originally slated to be 11 seeds according to the official seed list, Ole Miss sitting as the SEC Tournament champions, and Akron in the 91st percentile of our opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, each of these teams have the goods to pull an upset.
But which ones have the best shot, statistically-speaking? We decided to run our projections and find out.
4. California Golden Bears (against UNLV)
Let's get one thing straight: Cal isn't a very good team. Their 102.96 opponent-adjusted offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) sits as only the 164th-best mark in NCAA Division I. Their 101st-ranked defensive efficiency isn't much better. Even against the weaker Pac-12, the Bears only finished 12-6 in conference and belly-flopped against Utah in the conference tournament.
Now, let's compare that to UNLV. Forget all of the "lesser conference" mumbo jumbo; five of the Mountain West's nine teams made the NCAA Tournament this year, the largest proportion of any conference. And even with that rough conference schedule, the Runnin' Rebels still managed to post the No. 21 defensive efficiency in the nation, allowing just 91.56 points per 100 possessions. Their offense, while not the stuff of champions, was also better than California's at an adjusted ORtg of 105.34.
3. Oregon Ducks (against Oklahoma State)
With all of the CBS-led outcry concerning "Oh, poor Oregon!", the Ducks will be a likely upset pick on bracket upon bracket. However, most people forget just one thing: Donald Duck himself could probably put the ball in the hoop at a better clip than Oregon.
This season, the Ducks ranked just No. 146 in the Division I in offensive efficiency, scoring 103.40 points per 100 possessions with the ball. While their defense often made up the difference, sitting No. 20 in the country (just ahead of the aforementioned UNLV squad), they don't have the two-pronged offensive/defensive attack that makes for a plausible upset team.
Know what type of team the Ducks would aspire to be? The Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both teams run with a quick pace, in the top third of Division I teams in terms of possessions per 40 minutes. Both teams have strong defenses; Oklahoma State sits No. 32 in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency. However, the Cowboys can actually get the ball in the bucket at a better rate, scoring 3.5 more points per 100 possessions than Oregon.
2. Akron Zips (against VCU)
I absolutely love the Akron Zips in a probably unhealthy manner. Their adjusted 93.77 points allowed per 100 possessions, a number that takes into account the general crappiness of MACtion!, still sits No. 31 in terms of offensive efficiency. There isn't much of a drop off on offense either, as the Zips sit No. 49 in the country on that end of the floor. In fact, only 12 NCAA Tournament teams sit in the Top 50 in both opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. Akron is one.
And VCU is another. The Rams present one of the worst possible matchups for the Zips: a consistent team that plays a fast pace and can score at will. Shaka Smart's club ranked No. 18 in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency this season, pouring in 113.70 points per 100 possessions. Couple that with VCU's average 67.99 possessions per 40 minutes, the fastest pace among the top 30 teams in offensive rating, and you get more scoring than Shawn Kemp in Vegas. The addition of VCU's No. 47 defense makes them an absolute bracket buster and less likely to be upset.
1. Ole Miss Rebels (against Wisconsin)
I'm a Big Ten kind of guy; I said as much in my Big Ten Tourney preview from last week. You may notice in the article that I also called the Wisconsin Badgers my most underrated team in the entire conference. They then followed that up with a trip to the Tournament final, where they barely lost to Ohio State. Wisconsin is a solid team, No. 70 overall in offensive efficiency and No. 11 in defensive efficiency.
So why is Ole Miss my number one most likely upset? Because the Rebels' up-tempo style represents the polar opposite gameplan from Wisconsin's slow-it-down approach.
I don't think you could get two more different styles if you tried. Ole Miss finished the season with the 14th-quickest pace in Division I at 70.78 possessions per 40 minutes. Among Tourney teams, only Northwestern State and UNC were quicker. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was on the opposite end of that scale; their 60.66 possessions per 40 minutes was only quicker than Pitt among squads in the Dance.
That means this game will turn into a battle of styles; which team will control the tempo? With the Rebels' No. 33 offensive efficiency and No. 53 defensive efficiency, they have just as much of a chance as Wisconsin at doing just that. Along with a high variability of their games (a high standard deviation that makes them ripe for upset-making), Ole Miss is clearly the most likely team to pull a first round upset.
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