Wednesday March 17th, 2010

New Orleans

The view from the 19th floor of the media hotel in New Orleans. (Luke Winn/SI)

NEW ORLEANS -- More numbers for you on a dreary St. Patty's Day morning in the Big Easy, where there's an excellent view from the media hotel if you ignore the parking lots ...

I wrote this on Dec. 29, and it's pretty much the same thing I say every year, but it has too much value not to bring up at tourney time:

In the six years has tracked tempo-free statistics, no Final Four team has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency*. And only two Elite Eight teams in the past six years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Having a decent offense matters, too, but the data shows just how unlikely it is for a non-elite defensive team to make a deep tournament run.

Crazy things -- like George Mason's run in '06 -- happen in the NCAA tournament. But when you choose your Final Four, you're best off following the efficiency rules. (* I should note that I'm referencing end-of-season rankings with those rules. Some teams have moved into, say, the top 25 after having good tournaments. But it's not as if they made mega-jumps; they started out within shouting distance of the top 25.)

• These are the teams in each region that have top-25 (or close to top 25) defenses to match their elite offenses:

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)


Kansas 121.4 (2) 86.1 (5) .981 (2)

Ohio St. 119.0 (7) 89.8 (22) .962 (4)

Georgetown 117.6 (10) 90.9 (33) .951 (11)


Syracuse 117.9 (9) 89.1 (20) .962 (5)

BYU 117.4 (12) 89.6 (21) .957 (7)

Kansas St. 115.8 (16) 88.9 (19) .955 (9)


Wisconsin 116.5 (13) 87.3 (7) .965 (3)

Kentucky 115.5 (18) 87.7 (10) .960 (6)

West Va. 117.5 (11) 90.0 (24) .955 (8)


Duke 121.5 (1) 85.9 (4) .982 (1)

The Final Four in my "expert" bracket on today all come from that pool of teams: Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky and Duke. If you think that's a horrible Final Four, or if you think you're working with better numbers than mine, join the Tourney Blog pool on Facebook and beat my picks.

• Nearly everyone filling out brackets this week seems to be looking for someone to put in the Final Four other than Duke. They don't trust the Blue Devils' phenomenal numbers, even though this is the most statistically tough Duke team since 2004 -- the last time it went to the Final Four. And honestly? I don't trust Duke's numbers either. I just think the South Region is too weak to keep K's Kids out of Indianapolis.

These are the profiles of the Nos. 2 (Villanova) and 3 (Baylor) seeds in the South:

Adj OffEff Adj DefEff Pyth. Win%

(Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)

Baylor 119.6 (5) 92.7 (52) .949 (12)

Villanova 118.7 (8) 93.9 (62) .937 (15)

Both are elite offensive teams with non-elite defenses. If you must take one of them, though, make it the Bears: As Crashing the Dance's Net Efficiency Margin research shows, Baylor is peaking in March, and playing on Duke's level over its past five games. The Wildcats: not so much. They've been slumping into the dance. They'd have to have a major identity change over the next week to look like a Final Four team.

• The Elite Eight pick I'm least comfortable with is Kansas State over Syracuse; that was done, in part, to avoid having four No. 1 seeds in my Final Four. But the Orange are vulnerable due to Arinze Onuaku's injury, and their NEM trendline doesn't look good on the defensive end. You can read Andy Cox's full post on it here; the following graph he made shows that the Orange's offense has been covering up their defensive slide:

Syracuse NME

Syracuse's 2009-10 NME performance. (Crashing the Dance)

• Aside from Baylor, the non-No. 1 or 2 seed with the best chance of making it to Indy is Wisconsin. Bo Ryan's team is more efficient than Kentucky is on both sides of the ball. Two key stats should give the Badgers hope in the Sweet 16:

1. Wisconsin only turns the ball over on 15.1 percent of its possessions, ranking third in the country in that category. Kentucky turns the ball over on 20.4 percent of its possessions, ranking 167th. If the Badgers control the tempo and the ball as well as they have all season, that game could go down to the wire.

2. Much of Kentucky's offensive efficiency is based on its offensive rebounding. The Wildcats rank 7th in the nation in that category, grabbing 40.7 percent of available boards. Wisconsin happens to be the best team in the country at preventing opponents' offensive rebounds, though: The Badgers get to 74.2 percent of available defensive boards.

I still put Kentucky in my Final Four, because I think John Wall will turn it up a notch and be unguardable in the dance, but the lesson here is: If you believe the Wildcats are vulnerable, you shouldn't necessarily wait until the Elite Eight (against West Virginia) to pick the upset. (The previous Bracket Math post, looked at realistic and unrealistic Cinderella picks. Read it by clicking here. And be sure to join the Tourney Blog pool on Facebook.)

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