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.
3/12/2007 04:57:00 PM
Defending Your Bracket ... and Picking a Champ
Acie Law, Joseph Jones and the Ags are better than your average No. 3 seed.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
As you pore over your bracket picks this week, can you distinguish between the important factors and the irrelevant ones? You'll undoubtedly agonize over things such as, whether Texas A&M's home-court advantage in San Antonio will help the Aggies knock off Ohio State (yes); if UCLA's season-ending choke job should be considered a distress signal (not really); and how much you're interested in seeing an encore performance of the Jo Noah Boogie (as long as Lundquist joins in).
As much as all of that stuff -- location, momentum, dance moves, etc. -- matters, my most basic tenets of bracket-picking involve the laws of efficiency. I did a post at the outset of last year's Tourney Blog titled "Defending Your Bracket," which was reasonably successful in pinpointing the attractive offensive teams that were flawed on D -- and therefore risky bets in the dance. As the chart below shows, in the Modern Era of kenpom.com stats (2004-07), only one team outside the top 75 in adjusted defensive efficiency (sweet-shooting West Virginia, in '05) has reached the Elite Eight, and zero teams outside the top 25 in ADE have reached the Final Four.
Profile Of The Elite Eights
Adjusted Off. Eff. (Nat'l Rk.)
Adjusted Def. Eff. (Nat'l Rk.)
Based on the data above, it behooves you to limit the number of defensively challenged teams you put in your Elite Eight and Final Four. When my SI.com Writer Bracket comes out on Tuesday, it'll only have one school outside the top 50 in defensive efficiency winning more than two games: Texas. And the 'Horns, at No. 59, are barely outside of that range.
It's easy to become infatuated with entertaining offensive teams that don't play D -- Gonzaga's Adam Morrison squads were the best example -- but recent history shows that poor defensive efficiency numbers are a red flag, no matter how well a school scores. Below is a list of the teams (from '05 and '06) that ranked in the top 25 in offensive efficiency but outside the top 75 in D. You'll notice that most of them didn't last too long in the dance:
2005's defensively challenged 1-6 seeds:
Team Off. Eff Def. Eff. Out (Seed) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.) Rd. Out LSU (6) 112.1 (22) 94.7 (84) 1 Gonzaga (3) 115.5 (10) 97.0 (119) 2 W. Forest (2) 120.8 (2) 94.0 (76) 2
The main attractions here were Brandon Bass, Morrison and Chris Paul -- all of whom could light up a scoreboard. None of them made it past the first weekend.
This club included Morrison (again), Jared Dudley and Craig Smith, Shannon Brown, Chris Lofton and Kevin Pittsnogle. Two suffered first-round exits. Only West Virginia outperformed its seed expectation, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 6. None of them won more than twice.
The intriguing thing about the 2007 bracket -- and perhaps this is a result of smarter seeding by the selection committee -- is that only one school seeded 1-6, Vanderbilt, falls into the top-25 offense, below-75 defense category. There isn't a statistically fraudulent No. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the field. There are, however, four teams seeded either No. 7 or 8 that fit our profile, and each one has a talented scoring star:
If you were thinking about going out on a limb and forecasting a Nick Fazekas-led sleeper run into the Elite Eight, I strongly urge you to reconsider. Nevada does seem like an attractive option at first glance; the Wolf Pack dominated the WAC for much of the year, and have three potential NBA players (Fazekas and guards Marcellus Kemp and Ramon Sessions), but they've been keeping a little secret in Reno: their D is suspect. While the teams in this group aren't guaranteed to be doomed -- I think Arizona and Vandy have one win in them apiece -- their potential as giant-killers is limited.
Since we're dealing with such a small sample size (just three seasons) of efficiency data, the conclusions we're making are admittedly unscientific. I wouldn't be surprised if Texas, a young team that got exponentially better in the backstretch of the Big 12, crashes the party in Atlanta with a defense that doesn't exactly fit the Final Four mold. But when it comes to picking a national champion, it's impossible to ignore that the profile of the past three winners includes a top-10 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
In the grid below, I've broken down the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds from the 2007 bracket into four flights: "A" teams currently have national-champ efficiency resumes; "B" teams are great in one category, and right on the fringe in the other; "C" teams are another step down, and the "D" teams are unlikely to win the title. It's not surprising that three 1-seeds are in Flight A, take a look at Texas A&M: the third-seeded Aggies appear better-suited to cut down the nets in Indy than any of the No. 2s.
Team Off. Eff. Def. Eff. (Seed) (Nat'l Rk.) (Nat'l Rk.)