Why Stat Geeks Love the Florida Gators' Chances
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I believe it was Bill Simmons who said during this month's Sloan Conference that if Daryl Morey is Dork Elvis, then Nate Silver is Dork Jesus. So when Nate Silver tweets this, people are going to pay attention:
South Final 4 Odds: Florida 37%, Kansas 32%, Michigan 13%, Georgetown 7%, VCU 3%, Minnesota 2%, UNC 2%— Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight) March 18, 2013
But he's not the only one. The inside numbers of our March Madness Helper love the Gators, and basketball stat guys everywhere think this team could be the breakout star of the tournament. Why, exactly? Let's look at the numbers.
We're Down With PPP
The generally accepted model to determine a team's effectiveness isn't the antiquated points-per-game model. People play at different speeds; of course the Wisconsin Badgers are going to have less points per game, because if they shoot before five seconds left on the shot clock, the Yeti will devour their souls (or something). Instead, we like to look at the likeliness a team will score every time down the court. We do this with Points-per-Possession (PPP).
This stat could be an offensive number (how many points does a team average each time down the court) or a defensive number (how often does the other team score when this team is on defense), but either way, a team's effectiveness can be measured more accurately regardless of pace or consistency. And when you take these factors into account, the Florida Gators stand out as one of the best teams in the country.
We take our points-per-possession numbers and adjust them by opponents played; none of this Poor SEC crap here. But even after playing with the figures, Florida's metrics still come out on top. Their 116.42 points scored per 100 possessions (or 1.16 points per possession) ranks as the sixth-best mark in the country, behind only Indiana, Gonzaga, Michigan, Creighton, and St. Mary's. Their 86.28 points allowed per 100 possessions, meanwhile, sits third behind Stephen F. Austin and Louisville.
What it all means is that when we subtract Florida's offensive rating from their defensive rating, the Florida Gators have the highest net point differential in the entire NCAA Division I. On any given sequence of back-to-back offensive and defensive possessions, the Gators will average 0.301 more points scored than their opponents. That's the largest disparity in the nation; Gonzaga sits second at 0.280 net points per possession. Over the course of the game, those points will add up quickly.
The Key of Consistency
Lots of teams come into the NCAA Tournament with solid numbers. Lots of those teams also lose in their first game. The key to not becoming the next 2012 Missouri has to do with consistency. Essentially, if you're a bubble team, you want to be inconsistent and pray for a peak game and higher upset chance. If you're a top seed, though, you want to be as consistent as humanly possible to avoid the upset plague. The interesting thing comes if you're in the middle: how can 3 seed Florida try and do both?
Florida isn't the absolute model of consistency, and their statistical efficiency has slightly varied from game-to-game this season. After we plugged their numbers into our system, the standard deviation of their game-to-game efficiency came out to be 14.17, slightly below the middle of all NCAA teams. With this number, Florida isn't wildly inconsistent (prone to first or second round upsets), but they also have the ability to play up to tougher competition. That gives them a consistency number of the 61st percentile in our team rankings chart, No. 131 overall.
In comparison, that places Florida's consistency way above their peers, especially their fellow three seeds. Marquette's consistency is in the 46th percentile, No. 179 overall. Michigan State is worse, sitting in the 33rd percentile at No. 226. And New Mexico, whose 9.60 standard deviation is the 16th-lowest in all of Division I, has a consistency score at No. 332, proving them to be very unlikely to snag upsets.
Follow the Yellow-Brick Road
The West and Midwest regions are seen as the Groups of Death this particular time around. The South, where Florida is located, is seen more as the AL Central; not exactly the most difficult place to take over. And the analytics say that, for once, the public perception is correct.
In the first round, Florida plays Northwestern State. Northwestern State may have the quickest pace in the country, but they score seven less points per 100 possessions than Florida and allow ten more. I'll call that one a win. Then, Florida plays UCLA or Minnesota, both of whom are outside the top 100 Division I teams in terms of defensive efficiency. The Gators' likely competitors in the regional semifinals would be Georgetown, whose No. 9 defense is scary but whose No. 122 offense and No. 245 consistency rating is not. Finally, Florida would battle Kansas, who may sit No. 25 in offense and No. 13 in defense, but is only No. 219 in consistency.
Will Florida be a favorite in all of those games? No, public perception doesn't see them that way. Especially from the Sweet 16 on, they will likely be considered underdogs. Statistically, however, the Florida Gators match up well against any team in the country.
Their slow pace (No. 304 in the country at 62.1 possessions per 40 minutes) may be a cause for concern against teams that try and push the tempo, such as Ole Miss in the SEC Championship. But among likely opponents, only Northwestern State and UCLA have tempos in the top 100 of NCAA teams. In fact, potential Sweet 16 opponent Georgetown is even slower at 61.1 possessions per 40 minutes.
For the full breakdown of how far we expect Florida to go, you will need to check out the premium section of our March Madness Helper. But I'll just say here that we like them. We're with Nate Silver, and it's worth checking out to see how much.