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.
3/13/2007 02:13:00 PM
Feel, Feel, Feel Their Heat
Aaron Brooks and the third-seeded Ducks could be peaking at the right time.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
In the NCAA selection committee's bunker, the "hotness" of tourney squads is usually measured by the results of their last 10 games. There's a entire, pull-out section for "Last 10" on the committee's team sheets -- you can view it on the UCLA example Seth Davisposted last week -- that appears below the breakdown of a team's wins and losses against different tiers of the RPI. Regular fans, I think, use more arbitrary methods to take a team's temperature, such as gauging conference tournament performance -- or even more unscientifically, how good the team looked the last time you caught them on TV.
The Blog, in its ongoing obsession with efficiency-based analysis, is here to provide you with a new -- and improved -- way to identify the hottest teams heading into the NCAA tournament. I've enlisted the services of esteemed amateur stat-head David Hess, whose full previews can be found this week on HackTheBracket.com. Hess has been graphing Ken Pomeroy's game-by-game efficiency numbers for NCAA tourney teams, adjusting the data for home/road/neutral location and level of competition, and then applying what he calls "trendlines" -- curves that allow us to see whether a team is becoming more or less efficient leading into the dance.
Now for the juicy information: I asked Hess to pinpoint the hottest team in each region, based on the trendlines, and he delivered exclusive graphs to the Blog that appear below along with my commentary. (Note that an optimal team graph would have the top curve going UP, representing increased offensive improvement, and the lower curve going DOWN, representing increased defensive stinginess.)
The Midwest Region's hottest team:
The Ducks are even hotter than Florida, according to Hess' figures. Their offense has steadily improved over the course of the season -- a very promising sign -- and is at its peak level following a run through the Pac-10 tourney. Defense is not Oregon's strong point, but it has dipped down to a sub-90.0 rating (meaning it's giving up fewer than 0.9 points per possession) for the first time in months.
The West's hottest team:
This one should come as no surprise. The Jayhawks were consistently one of the nation's best defensive teams for the entire season, but have blossomed on offense over the past month. The only worry -- even though the figures are adjusted for competition -- is whether or not the Jayhawks' offense peaked against the weakest part of the Big 12 schedule, and is in for a reality check in the NCAA tournament.
The East's hottest team:
North Carolina and Georgetown, watch out. I put Mr. Durant and the 'Horns in the Final Four of my SI.com Writer Bracket for a reason. The most important thing in this graph is not the quality of Texas' offense, but the fact that its defense -- which has always been its weakness -- is finally hitting a respectable, sub-90.0 level. Finally, the South's hottest team:
Ohio State has been a high-quality team for months, but the school whose efficiency margin is peaking here is Louisville. The Cards' offense, even though it bottomed out in its Big East tournament loss to Pitt, has been hitting incredible levels down the stretch. I put Texas A&M in my title game, but this information, needless to say, has me worried about the Aggies' probable second-round matchup with the 'Ville in Lexington.