Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/27/2006 07:52:00 PM
Defending Your Bracket Redux
Arron Afflalo (left) and the Bruins pulled off an epic comeback -- on the strength of their D -- against Derek Raivio and Gonzaga.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
In the name of accountability, the post I promised to revisit leading up to the Final Four was called "Defending Your Bracket," from March 13. It was an attempt to help poolsters identify the highly seeded NCAA tournament teams that didn't fit the profile of an Elite Eight team -- and avoid slotting them for deep runs in the dance.
The first step in that post was establishing the general model -- based on offensive and defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) -- of the past two tourneys' Elite Eight squads. It's not a deep sample size, but it's all we have available (via kenpom.com) in the efficiency world.
What I found was that, while good offense was a given, only three teams outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency (Alabama in 2004, and Arizona and West Virginia in '05) and just one squad outside the top 75 (WVU '05) advanced to the Elite Eight. And no team outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency made the Final Four in either of those years.
Here's how the 2004 Elite Eight stacked up (all figures are adjusted by Ken Pomeroy to factor in varying levels of competition):
Team Rd. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) UConn NC 115.7 (8) 83.0 (3) Ga. Tech FR 111.1 (27) 83.7 (5) Duke FF 118.7 (2) 83.5 (4) Okla. St. FF 116.3 (5) 85.8 (9) St. Joe'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)
And here's the 2005 Elite Eight:
Team Rd. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) UNC NC 122.1 (1) 85.1 (7) Illinois FR 120.0 (3) 85.5 (11) Louisville FF 118.0 (6) 87.8 (16) Mich. 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 Va. EE 113.6 (12) 94.6 (83)
Based on this data, I tried to pinpoint teams that were vulnerable in the 2006 bracket because of their weak defenses. Three examples from the 2005 bracket were used to back up that theory -- LSU, Gonzaga and Wake Forest. All were highly seeded teams with defensive efficiency ratings outside the top 75 that suffered earlier-than-expected exits:
How accurate was the theory? Well, not a single member of that offensive-minded club advanced past the Sweet 16. And three of them (Oklahoma, Michigan State and Tennessee) were upset in the first weekend. Solid returns, I'd say.
The profile of the 2006 Elite Eight further supports the argument. It took defense to an extreme: Nary a team from outside the top 15 in defensive efficiency made the cut.
Team Rd. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) UCLA FF 113.2 (23) 84.9 (3) LSU FF 110.3 (42) 85.3 (4) Florida FF 116.9 (6) 87.4 (8) G. Mason FF 108.8 (53) 89.1 (15) Memphis EE 111.9 (30) 87.0 (7) Texas EE 118.2 (3) 87.7 (9) Villanova EE 116.3 (9) 89.0 (13) UConn EE 118.9 (1) 89.0 (14)
Of the 2006 Final Four, only one (Florida) is an offensive juggernaut, and three (UF, LSU and UCLA) are in the top-10 defensively. And on this plane, Mason doesn't look nearly as much like a Cinderella: The Patriots were ranked No. 15 on D.
"Defending Your Bracket" worked out rather well. This tournament will long be remembered for the stunning successes of mid-majors, but more quietly, it was defined by defense.
Of all the mind-boggling circumstances surrounding George Mason's run to the Final Four ... the fact that a bubble team from the Colonial Athletic Association (or the Connecticut Assassin's Association, if you listen to Jim Larranaga) just beat Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn; or that the Patriots did it as a No. 11 seed, tying 1986 LSU for the honor of lowest seed ever to make the NCAA tournament's last weekend; or that GMU did all this without any true NBA prospects on its roster ... this one is the most amazing:
Very little on Mason's regular-season resume suggested that this was possible. Consider:
- On Nov. 11, the Patriots lost 83-78 at the home of Wake Forest, which would go on to finish last in the ACC. - On Nov. 22, the Patriots were blown out -- at home -- by Creighton, a non-NCAA tourney team from the Missouri Valley Conference. - On Dec. 30, the Patriots lost 73-71 at Mississippi State, which had the ninth-best conference record in the SEC. - On both Feb. 23 and March 5, GMU lost to Hofstra, the third-place team in the CAA.
GMU defeated two NCAA tournament teams prior to the dance: CAA co-champ UNC-Wilmington, and in the Bracket Busters, eventual Sweet 16 foe Wichita State. The Patriots also lost to four NIT squads, and had just one "big" win all season -- over the Shockers on the road. While Wichita was a formidable team, did anyone honestly see that victory translating into Mason's miracle on hardwood?