Which #1 Seed Has The Easiest Path?
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It's finally here. After a season of buzzer-beaters and Buzz Williams, we've reached the pinnacle of sports, the two weeks that makes everyone wish they were unemployed. By now, you've pored over every single possibility of your bracket, resisted the urge to make every 5/12 upset a reality, and now perhaps you're settling in with a nice glass of wine, comfortable with your chalk picks to the Final Four.
Just one catch: at least one of those No. 1 seeds won't make it, and there are decent odds that another won't either. But which one will it be? Come with us into the mathatorium as we analyze using our Team Analytics to find which top seeds have a cakewalk and which ones have some pitfalls ahead.
Conventional wisdom so far amongst the Twitterati is that amongst the regions, the Midwest and West are the toughest. On the surface, the Midwest does seem a bit softer than most, perhaps owing to Louisville's No. 1 overall seed. The top seeds in the region are a very beatable No. 2 Duke (No. 7 offense, No. 69 defense) and an overrated Michigan State squad (No. 72 offense, No. 23 offense), neither of which looks to have the horses to keep up with the balance and talent of Louisville. Even pundit favorite St. Louis has weak analytics against them; they only rank No. 81 offensively.
The potential snake in the grass comes in the form of Creighton, who comes in with the No. 4 most efficient offense and a... well, decent defense, ranking No. 90. The Cincinnati Bearcats are a bad matchup for them - them Big East schools like to grind and bruise whereas Creighton will want to run - but if they can avoid that 7/10 upset, look for them to give Duke more than a little bit of a game and potentially meet Louisville in the regional final.
All in all though, it's safe to say that Louisville has it pretty safe.
Rock Chalk looked great in their third decisive victory over Kansas State in the Big 12 final. On the other hand, they did lose to Baylor by 23 points. So where does that lead us?
Like Duke in the MW, Georgetown does not statistically fit the profile of a No. 2 seed. While they're elite on defense - ranking No. 9 in overall efficiency - they simply do not score all that well, ranking them just No. 122 in offensive efficiency, one of the lowest ranks for any major conference team in the tournament. That's the end of the good news, though.
At the No. 3 seed is an absolute monster in Florida. Don't let the loss to Ole Miss fool you; the Gators are remarkable on both sides of the ball (No. 5 offense, No. 2 defense) and surely Billy Donovan has the coaching temperment to lead his team in the dance. Deeper into the bracket, you've got a mid-major no one wants to touch in VCU (No. 17 offense), and a team talented enough to beat anyone in Michigan (No. 3 offense).
Long story short, going chalk in the South is a dicey proposition at best. The Jayhawks are solid, but that's a tough road to walk.
A few people griped about the Zags getting a No. 1 seed; I find absolutely no problem with it at all. Featuring the No. 2 offense behind Kelly Olynyk and his Lincecum-esque hair, the Zags played a tougher schedule than you'd think - whomping St. Mary's three times without breaking a sweat. What did all of that hard work give them? A murderer's row of a region, that's what.
While Ohio State fits the profile more of a No. 3 seed in terms of metrics (No. 30 offense and No. 25 defense in a brutal conference), you've got several statistical monsters lurking about between Pitt (No. 8 offense/No. 28 defense) and Wisconsin (No. 70 offense/No. 11 defense). Between those major conference bruisers, you've also got critical favorite New Mexico, the always dangerous Arizona, and a sleeper in Belmont (No. 16 offense/No. 50 defense) that will give everyone they come across a solid run.
Along with Kansas, Gonzaga faces an uphill challenge to get out of their region. My guess is that fewer than half of all brackets will have the Zags emerging from the South; that conservative number may even be a little high.
Ah, the Hoosiers. After dealing with Kansas and the 'Zags, finally we have another team whose metrics show them to be a legit No. 1. Praise be!
Indiana has the No. 1 offense in the country, again using our advanced metrics. But unlike a few teams that are a bunch of Allen Iversons (Michigan, Creighton, St. Mary's), the Hoosiers play very credible defense, ranking No. 24 in our metrics despite a very tough schedule in the B1G. So far, so good.
Elsewhere in the East, we've got an overrated No. 2 that is known for defense on paper but not in the metrics in Miami (No. 39 defense, No. 51 offense) and a paper tiger Big East regular champ in Marquette that inexplicably ranks No. 52 in offense and a terrible No. 108 defensively.
But what about sleepers, you say? Syracuse fits the No. 4 profile just barely, and even the traditional 5/12 upset matchup features a Cal Bears squad that doesn't break the top 100 on either side of the ball. Yikes.
This one I'm confident in; you can feel comfortable going chalk in the East as far as Indiana. Beyond that, well, let's just there's a whole lot of mediocrity there.
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