The Sweet 'Four'

By JON GAGNON
On March 26, 2013

The NCAA Tournament has narrowed its field down to 16 teams, 'The Sweet 16.' Teams are now just four wins away from calling themselves National Champions. But out of the 16 teams remaining, how many actually have a chance at winning the title? I say four.

Past champions have possessed common qualities over the last decade - namely offensive and defensive efficiencies (efficiency is based on team's points scored per 100 possessions, vice versa for defensive efficiency). In the last 10 seasons eight champions have been ranked in the top five of the country in offensive efficiency - seven of those eight were in the top two.

The only two teams not in the top five: the 2003 Syracuse team and the 2011 Connecticut team - who were led by superstars Carmelo Anthony and Kemba Walker.

Defensively (discounting 'Cuse and UConn's titles from the stats), six of the past eight champions have been in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. The only two teams not in the top 10 defensively, 2007 Florida and 2009 North Carolina - and both ranked first in offense.

The resulting formula: in order to have a chance at the title, a team must rank in the top five offensively and top 10 defensively - with the exception being a non-top-10 defensive team must be No. 1 in offense.

If you include 2003 and 2011 - the only seasons when this formula didn't hold true - the formula still has an 80 percent success rate. But I'm discounting the possibility of that 20 percent occurring this season. Superstars led those Syracuse and UConn teams to historic runs and a title. This season, there are no teams outside of the top 10 in either efficiency category that possess such a player.

Using this formula we can automatically eliminate 12 of the 16 remaining tournament teams from having legitimate shots at the title, leaving us with four teams: Indiana, Louisville, Florida and Ohio State, in no particular order.

Before we dive into which of these four have the best shot, let's take a look at who almost made the cut. Michigan finished the season second in offense but 42nd in defense. Kansas finished fifth defensively and Michigan State finished sixth, but neither made it into the top 20 in offense. Both Syracuse and Miami finished in the top 20 of both categories but failed to crack the top 10 in either.

Of the four teams the biggest long shot is Ohio State. They come in at seventh offensively and 12th defensively. Their road to the Final Four - which is without a doubt the easiest amongst the qualified teams - pushes them into inclusion of my possible four teams, but that won't be enough to help them earn a title.

This leaves us with Louisville (10th offense, first defense), Indiana (first offense, 15th defense) and Florida (third offense, second defense). Statistically, the Gators are the favorite to win it all, but I'm not buying it.

The Gators played in an astonishing six games this season that were decided by single digits. More astonishingly, they were 0-6 in those games - they won't be blowing out the upper-echelon teams they will face in the remaining games of the tourney (except Florida Gulf Coast on Friday) leaving me with significant doubt towards their odds. They feature a high-octane offense that relies heavily on the three-point ball - never a good formula for championship success in any level of basketball.

Coincidentally, the final two teams remaining have a shot to meet in the finals, as they are on opposite sides of the bracket. The stats are a good enough supporter to narrow down the field but now you have to look further then stats to evaluate two statistically similar teams.

My pick is Louisville. If we incorporate the stats, Louisville's weakness offensively is less of an issue than Indiana's weakness defensively. The knock on Indiana - they aren't a tough team - is a direct result of their defensive inefficiencies.

Louisville, on the other hand, is an improving three-point shooting team, as Russ Smith has finally found a way to negate his controversial shot taking - by making said shots. As a team, they get contributions from all aspects on the court. Their big men and wing players finish with authoritative dunks (trust me, I had to endure them pound 'Cuse in the Big East Title game), they get to the foul line and they have at least two above average shooters from the three (Smith and Luke Hancock).

I wish I had looked into all of this before I filled out my bracket two weeks ago ...

 

Email: jon.gagnon@ubspectrum.com


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