5 Most Likely NCAA Champions Pre-Sweet 16
I could talk about Florida Gulf Coast or Wichita State or La Salle all day. Chances are, though, each one of those three teams will be a fond memory come this time next week.
Those teams aren't title contenders. We're interested in the Big Boys.
With Gonzaga's pre-Tournament 15.98 percent championship odds gone, it's worth checking out to see the top championship odds for those teams that are left. The remaining seven our of our eight most likely championship squads are still around, but the way the bracket has shaped up, the odds are shuffled a bit.
1. Florida Gators
Pre-Tournament Title Odds: 18.4 percent
Current Title Odds: 28.1 percent
Already our number one team as I so helpfully outlined last week, it's no surprise that Florida tops our list as the most likely Tourney winner. It does surprise me a tiny bit, though, to see them jump over 10 percent from their initial Pre-Tournament odds projections.
Obviously, this one has a lot to do with the fact that Florida Gulf Coast, while the story of the year, has the historical basketball chops of a Wall Street rec league. The Gators hold a 96.5 percent chance of taking down Cinderella. Only one other school holds over a 71 percent chance of winning in the Sweet 16 (and we'll get to them in short order), and essentially being guaranteed one of your four must-win games will do a lot to further your odds.
Among the teams that are left, two of the three Division I squads with a higher opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency than Florida still remain: Indiana and Michigan. Of the three Division I squads with a higher defensive efficiency than Florida, only Louisville sticks around. It's tough to envision a scenario where Florida isn't at least competing with the big boys, either against Kansas in the Elite Eight or in Atlanta.
2. Louisville Cardinals
Pre-Tournament Title Odds: 10.3 percent
Current Title Odds: 20.4 percent
Which would you rather face in the Sweet 16: a Saint Louis squad with the No. 88 offense and No. 12 defense in the country, an Oklahoma State squad with the No. 95 offense and No. 29 defense in the country, or an Oregon Ducks squad with the No. 16 defense but No. 147 offense in the country? Personally, I'd take the last one. Luckily for Louisville after a few upsets, that's exactly what they're going to get.
The Cardinals' 92.1 percent chance of beating Oregon in the Sweet 16 is just one key component to their championship odds almost doubling from Pre-Tournament. Another major piece is their half of the bracket. No Gonzaga or Wisconsin to deal with means their odds only fall from a 57.41 percent chance at a Final Four birth to a 41.42 percent chance at the championship game.
In their first two games, both Louisville's offensive and defensive efficiency have exceed pre-Tournament opponent-adjusted averages. In fact, their 1.30 points per possession (PPP) scored against Colorado State in the Round of 32 was their most efficient offensive outing since putting up 1.34 PPP against UMKC on December 8. They topped 1.2 PPP only once in Big East conference play, and that was against barely-Big East basketball Providence. These Cardinals' wings aren't even close to clipped, and they have a great chance to fly sky-high.
3. Indiana Hoosiers
Pre-Tournament Title Odds: 15.4 percent
Current Title Odds: 13.6 percent
So, let's get the math straight. Indiana won both of their first two games, albeit in only semi-convincing fashion against Temple. They hold the No. 1 most-efficient offense and No. 21 most-efficient defense in all of college basketball after adjusting for opponents. Their conference, the Big Ten, has advanced all of its favored teams to the Sweet 16. For the love of the Hick from French Lick and all that is holy, why has their title odds dropped 1.8 percent since the start of the Tourney?
Because their region didn't get Gulf Coast'd or Oregon'd or whatever you want to call that monstrosity in the West. The top four seeds all advanced to the Sweet 16 in the East Region, leaving Indiana with one of the toughest roads to get to the Final Four. Our odds have them with only a 68.58 percent chance at the Elite Eight, fourth-best among teams left in the field (even behind Wichita St.). They only have a 43.57 percent chance at the Final Four, also fourth-best among teams left in (even behind Ohio State).
That tougher run means lower title odds, now that it's assured that they are playing the toughest teams possible. There is very little chance at an easy game the rest of the way; it's all hard-fought battles for Indiana from here on in. Despite the fact they should be favored in most of those games, that 18th-highest standard deviation of their metrics hasn't gone away, meaning that they're prone to some extremely inefficient upset-style games.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Pre-Tournament Title Odds: 3.7 percent
Current Title Odds: 7.0 percent
I read a lot about Ohio State having a leisurely stroll into the Final Four, but let's not get it twisted: Arizona still has a 41.5 percent chance of beating them in the Sweet 16, and neither Wichita State nor La Salle can be considered pushovers. Still, the West region is ripe for the picking, especially with Ohio State's No. 23 overall defensive efficiency (the next closest is Wichita State at No. 44) and No. 29 offensive efficiency (only Arizona is better at No. 23.
The more interesting part for me is what would happen if THE Ohio State did get to the Final Four. Let's assume for giggles and bits that the top seeds all won out. If that were the case, Ohio State would easily be the worst team in the field. Louisville, Kansas, and Indiana (and Florida, for what it's worth) each have both a higher offensive and defensive opponent-adjusted efficiency than the Buckeyes.
Sure, their high standard deviation, 36th-largest among D-I teams, means that they are inconsistent and their efficiency can reach much greater heights. The flip side, though, is that they also are more susceptible to upset through the downside of that inconsistency. Boy, it's a good thing that they won't be facing upset-minded teams in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 then...
5. Duke Blue Devils
Pre-Tournament Title Odds: 3.9 percent
Current Title Odds: 5.7 percent
They might just have the hardest matchup of any of the top seeds in this Sweet 16; Michigan State holds the seventh-greatest championship odds (and second-greatest for a three seed) at 4.2 percent. Duke only has 50.85 percent chance of even making it to the Elite Eight, which makes their inclusion on this list (over Kansas and Miami) even more magical.
The Dukies can score; that's never been a question. They sit seventh in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency, only behind three other teams (Indiana, Michigan, Florida) still in the field. The issues come with their defense: at No. 59 overall, Duke's points allowed per 100 possessions sits 4.05 points higher than Michigan State.