March Madness Bracket Helper: Final Call
Like any good people that play around with numbers for a living should, we've been nose-deep in Advanced Bracketology: none of this weak guessing stuff here.
By analyzing each Tourney team's offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, pace, and consistency, we've made extremely educated guesses about what to expect when the Tournament tips off today.
Want to know what we had to say, based on both our free-to-use and premium numbers from our March Madness Helper? The answer is yes, and read on to get yourself educated. Click on the links to read each full article, but I've posted a taste of each one for you here.
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.
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 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.
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.
It must be my favorite stat of the tournament so far since I keep repeating it: only 12 teams in the Tourney sit in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Only two of those teams are double-digit seeds: Belmont and Akron. But while the Akron Zips have been consistent this season (and consistency is a bad thing when you're trying to play above your level to match the top teams), Belmont's high variability in their game-to-game inefficiencies means that they could be a potential bracket buster with their occasional super-strong play.
Duke, however, may be in a bit over its head. Already one of the weaker teams at the top of the bracket with their No. 68 opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency (in the 79th percentile of D-I squads), the selection committee didn't do the Blue Devils any favors. Creighton would potentially match up against Duke's defense with the fourth-most efficient offense in America, scoring 117.43 points per 100 possessions. Their pace could also be a problem for Duke: the Blue Devils love to run up-tempo at a pace in the top 20 percent of D-I squads, but Creighton sits in the 33rd percentile in number of possessions per 40 minutes.
I want to like the Golden Eagles, I really do. They're from a great sports town in Milwaukee, they've hung around forever as the classic pretty good that could never reach the next level (see also: Pittsburgh, "Parks And Recreation", Val Kilmer's acting career between 1985-1995), but I'm afraid I'm going to have to put my foot down this year. They've flipped the script on me; they've won the regular season Big East with their worst team in years. You bastards.
It might seem odd to have the Big Ten Champs with only a 16.9 percent chance of making the Final Four, but Ohio State doesn't have that elite skill that Final Four teams usually have to push them over the top. The No. 34 offense in the country? That's awesome, but within their region alone, Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Belmont, Arizona, Boise State, and Notre Dame all scored more points per possession. The No. 22 defense? That's even better, but Gonzaga, Southern (no, really), and Wisconsin top them there as well.
You've seen the clip a million times: Bryce Drew. Cash. This Valparaiso Crusaders squad is built in that mold, featuring a shooter non-pareil in Ryan Broekhoff who shoots 43 percent from behind the arc, complimented by Dutch big man Kevin Van Wijk, who bangs around to the clip of 65 percent shooting on nearly 13 points a game. They fit the mid-major mold to a T: a bunch of shooters who can heat up quickly and put you behind double-digits before you catch your breath. Offensive efficiency in the top 10 percent of all-teams, defensive efficiency in the top 20 percent - I'll take that balance against a weak major like the No. 8 team out of the Big East any day of the week.