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Early Warnings

Teams who need to shore up on D to succeed in March

Posted: Wednesday December 20, 2006 12:41PM; Updated: Wednesday December 20, 2006 3:30PM
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Is your favorite team already doomed?

Well ... doomed might be too strong a word. Because Dec. 20 is too early a date to declare any poll-vote-worthy team unfit for a deep NCAA tournament run. Ample time remains to correct flaws. Young teams can gel in the conference season. Previously misused players can settle into effective roles. Coaches can alter the style of their teams. Which is why I'm offering my second annual Early Warnings list before Christmas, to put eight reputable teams on notice that, if they don't change their inefficient ways, the odds are heavily stacked against them to reach the Elite Eight.

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What odds, you ask? What I've done -- with the limited data available on offensive and defensive efficiency from kenpom.com's stats archive -- is create a general profile of the past three sets of Elite Eight teams. And while I'm aware that the sample size is relatively small, and the NCAA tournament is a highly unpredictable event, the data yields some rather striking truths. Especially on the subject of defense:

1) In the past three Elite Eights, six out of the 24 teams (25 percent) finished outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency (points per possession).

2) In the past three Elite Eights, only three of the 24 teams (12.5 percent) finished outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency (points yielded per possession).

3) In the past three Final Fours, four of the 12 teams (33.3 percent) finished outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency.

4) In the past three Final Fours, none of the 12 teams finished outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency.

Examine the numbers:

Profile Of The Elite Eights
Team Rd. Adjusted
Off. Eff.
(Nat'l Rk.)
Adjusted
Def. Eff.
(Nat'l Rk.)
2006
Florida NC 119.4 (2) 87.2 (5)
UCLA RU 113.0 (28) 85.1 (3)
LSU FF 109.9 (50) 85.7 (4)
George Mason FF 110.0 (49) 90.0 (18)
Memphis EE 112.9 (29) 87.4 (6)
Texas EE 118.8 (4) 88.7 (10)
UConn EE 119.2 (3) 89.9 (16)
Villanova EE 117.0 (11) 89.9 (17)
2005
North Carolina NC 122.1 (1) 85.1 (7)
Illinois RU 120.0 (3) 85.5 (11)
Louisville FF 118.0 (6) 87.8 (16)
Michigan St. FF 118.0 (7) 89.3 (25)
Kentucky EE 111.4 (25) 85.0 (6)
Wisconsin EE 110.6 (28) 86.2 (12)
Arizona EE 116.3 (9) 90.3 (34)
West Virginia EE 113.6 (12) 94.6 (83)
2004
Connecticut NC 115.7 (8) 83.0 (3)
Georgia Tech RU 111.1 (27) 83.7 (5)
Duke FF 118.7 (2) 83.5 (4)
Oklahoma St. FF 116.3 (5) 85.8 (9)
St. Joseph's EE 115.1 (9) 85.8 (10)
Kansas EE 111.2 (23) 86.5 (14)
Xavier EE 112.3 (17) 87.9 (19)
Alabama EE 112.0 (18) 92.2 (49)

Scoring power obviously matters -- seeing that 75 percent of the Elite Eight teams have an elite offense -- but defense, to me, is paramount. Teams that are exceptional offensively but poor defensively, such as Gonzaga or Boston College last season, tend to get overvalued in the polls and we're able to weed out the pretenders by paying attention to the defensive efficiency column. Last year's Early Warning list (it had yet to acquire the catchy name, but served the same purpose) consisted of the Zags, Eagles, and seven others:

Early Warnings List: December 23, 2005
Team AP
Rk.
Adjusted
Off. Eff.
(Nat'l Rk.)
Adjusted
Def. Eff.
(Nat'l Rk.)
Michigan State 10 120.8 (3) 104.7 (247)
Geo. Washington 13 112.9 (28) 96.7 (133)
Louisville 11 109.4 (45) 95.6 (114)
Oklahoma 7 109.1 (46) 95.4 (111)
UCLA* 12 113.4 (24) 93.7 (85)
Gonzaga* 8 116.8 (9) 93.6 (82)
North Carolina 17 113.3 (25) 93.2 (78)
Boston College* 14 113.9 (22) 93.0 (75)
Wake Forest 22 103.6 (100) 92.9 (74)
* Teams playing at less than full-strength in first third of season

Two of the Warned, Michigan State and Oklahoma, went on to be upset in the first round of the NCAAs, and two others, Louisville and Wake Forest, didn't even make the Dance.

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