Water Cooler Talk: 90 Facts About This Year's NCAA Tournament
When March hits, everyone is a college basketball analyst. People come out of the woodwork and act as if they know everything there is about the sport, acting as bracket experts.
You see this most often in the workplace. Folks will be hanging out in the office kitchen -- by the water cooler -- throwing out the hottest takes imaginable about the upcoming tournament.
Don't let that talk fool you: the majority of people have no idea what they're talking about.
And that's OK. That's perfectly fine. March Madness gives us all an excuse to talk endlessly about sports without our employers caring as much about lack of work. So let's embrace the chatter. Let's talk it up.
But let's also do it as intelligently as possible.
To help, take a look at these 90 facts about this year's big dance that you can talk through around the water cooler as the tournament begins tomorrow.
1. The consensus top pick to win the title is Kansas -- ESPN's Who Picked Whom data shows 24.5% of brackets have Kansas as champion.
2. Kansas is our algorithm's top team, entering the tournament with a 19.55 nERD, which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average one on a neutral court.
3. Though we like Kansas' chances of winning the title, our numbers have the odds lower than what the public thinks.
4. In a larger pool, it may not be advantageous to pick Kansas as your champion.
5. Some experts think the biggest threat to Kansas before reaching the Final Four is Cal.
6. According to our numbers, Cal is the 25th best team in the country with a 13.05 nERD.
7. But they've been capable of beating top teams, losing to 1-seeded Virginia by a single point and splitting two games during the season with Oregon, another 1 seed.
8. Speaking of Oregon, they're easily the worst 1 seed in this tournament, coming in with a 14.95 nERD.
9. Over the last 15 years, only three 1 seeds have had a nERD lower than 15.00.
10. One of those teams made it to the Elite Eight (2002-03 Oklahoma), while the other dropped in the Round of 32 (2003-04 Stanford).
11. The team most likely to come out of Oregon's region is Oklahoma -- or that's what the public thinks, at least.
12. The Sooners started the season 12-0 before losing a triple overtime game to the aforementioned Kansas.
13. Oklahoma is led by star guard Buddy Hield, who averaged 25 points per game during the season.
14. The biggest knock on Oklahoma, though, is their depth -- only four players averaged more than six points per game for Oklahoma this year.
15. Our numbers do like Oklahoma a lot, but Michigan State is the best 2 seed per nERD.
16. Sparty has Senior guard Denzel Valentine, who's one of the best -- if not the best -- players in the country.
17. To many (including yours truly), Michigan State deserved a 1 seed after beating Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament.
18. But, to their advantage, their side of the Midwest Region isn't filled with power teams.
19. The top team, according to nERD, that Michigan State will have to face prior to the Elite Eight isn't 3-seeded Utah, but 11-seeded Gonzaga.
20. The Zags have two really good forwards in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, who both averaged 17-plus points throughout the season.
21. Despite ranking 26th in nERD, Gonzaga isn't the best 11 seed in the tournament according to our numbers.
22. That award goes to Wichita State, who crushed an underrated Vanderbilt team in their First Four matchup.
23. Wichita State, despite being a small conference team, has pretty good tournament experience, especially with guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.
24. Wichita State's last three tournament appearances have resulted in a trip to the Final Four, Sweet 16 and Round of 32.
25. That means Baker and VanVleet have never lost in the Round of 64.
26. This year, they'll be facing 6-seeded Arizona in that round.
27. Per our metrics, Arizona is the best 6 seed in the tournament, ranking higher -- barely -- than Wichita State in nERD.
28. Don't be surprised if the winner of that game is able to make a run.
29. Part of that has to do with Villanova being the 2 seed in that region -- the worst 2 seed according to our numbers.
30. As has been the case in year's past, Villanova relies heavily on the three.
31. Teams that rely heavily on the three usually don't perform well consistently in the NCAA Tournament.
32. Tournament teams that rely heaviest on the three-pointer: Iona, Michigan, Villanova, Syracuse.
33. Iona is the lowest seed of that bunch and ranks as one of the worst teams in the tournament according to nERD.
34. They'll face Iowa State in the Round of 64, a team that ranks -- among NCAA Tournament squads -- 28th in three-point attempt rate against per game.
35. Iowa State was a 3 seed in both 2014 and 2015.
36. They never made it past the Sweet 16 both years and fell to 14-seeded UAB in the Round of 64 last year.
37. Iona does have A.J. English, who averages 22.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, making this game interesting from an upset standpoint.
38. Upsets happen all the time in the Round of 64, especially with 12 seeds upsetting 5 seeds.
39. Over the past 14 NCAA Tournaments, we've seen a 12 seed knock off a 5 seed 24 times, good for a 43 percent rate.
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