What is the most important stat in NCAA tournament games?

If there was one mistake I made this year with my bracket it was picking the wrong statistic to be my leading indicator for predictions. That was defense.
The result was picking Kentucky to beat Virginia in the title game. Whoops.
As you can see in the top 50 defenses, Virginia and Kentucky are at the top. While Kentucky and Wisconsin made the Final Four with elite defensesFinal Four Indy, Duke was outside the top 100 and Michigan State was outside the top 80.

Think offense is the key stat? Think again. The top 50 is a mixed bag of teams who did well in the tournament and teams who flopped like Davidson and Iowa State.

Three-point shooting? Only two teams in the top 20 of 3-point field-goal percentage even made it to the Sweet 16 in Gonzaga and Utah.

This leaves the stat coaches talk about all the time. Turnovers.

While it’s not overwhelming, the quality of teams in the top 50 is significant. Turnover margin was the key to getting West Virginia to the Sweet 16 and Georgia State’s big upset of Baylor.
Georgia State was plus 15 in turnovers in its upset of Baylor, turning over the Bears 21 times. Baylor’s rebounding and defense was not good enough to make up for it.

West Virginia was plus 5 in turnover margin against Buffalo and was plus 13 vs. Maryland. The problem for WVU is it met Kentucky in the Sweet 16; a team that also forces miscues because of its length and size. The Mountaineers were minus 3 against the Wildcats and that contributed to a 78-39 drumming.

Virginia Commonwealth is known for its pressure and forcing mistakes, but Ohio State was strong in the turnover game too. The result was the Buckeyes winning in overtime as the two squads ended with 11 turnovers each. Having the same number of turnovers as VCU is quite the accomplishment.

Wichita State shot a dreadful 15.4 % from 3 against Indiana but edged out a win thanks to plus six in turnover margin.

The Louisville Cardinals are always good in the turnover game as that’s Rick Pitino’s forte. An upset from UC-Irvine appeared likely but Louisville survived courtesy of a plus five in turnover margin. It was the only team stat the Cardinals clearly controlled. The turnover edge nearly propelled the Cardinals to the Final Four as lost to the Spartans in overtime in the East Regional Final. Louisville was just plus three in that game.

Remember the First Four? BYU came in as an offensive powerhouse and shot an insanely 15 of 29 from 3. Problem though was Ole Miss turning BYU over 15 times to its 7.

It’s also interesting that among the teams with the fewest turnovers per game you’ll find Wisconsin at No. 2. It’s an advantage that might neutralize the defense of Kentucky a tiny bit.

It’s not unanimous, but turnover margin has been a key stat throughout the tournament. Six of the Elite Eight are in the top 75 of the stat with Michigan State being the only true anomaly at No. 215.

Now I wish I could have just reworked the bracket with that in mind.

Conferences that need a strong NCAA Tournament

Those players walk over the logo the same way the NCAA walks over the conference.

Those players walk over the logo the same way the NCAA walks over the conference.

For some leagues, the NCAA Tournament is the only chance it has to build a reputation. That means the pressure is on these mid-major conferences.

5. Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa is a Final Four sleeper and Wichita State is also getting plenty of love in bracket pools. But what if they falter? Wyoming has potential to beat Northern Iowa in a classic 12/5 upset. Wichita State has traditional powers in Indiana and Kansas in the first weekend. Indiana is a top 10 3-point shooting team and can beat anyone because of that. Playing Kansas in the round of 32 is a dream for Shockers fans but with that dream comes pressure. This is a huge week for the Missouri Valley.

4. West Coast Conference
With BYU going out to Ole Miss in the first four it’s down to Gonzaga to carry the league, but the Bulldogs are use to that. The program has been criticized for not having the deep tourney runs to mirror its regular season success. The road is not easy with Davidson and Iowa State lurking, but this might be the best team Mark Few has had. It’s put up or shut up time for Gonzaga and the WCC.

3. Atlantic 10

Next from Atlantic 10 on Vimeo.

Dayton was a lightning rod for criticism for hosting a First Four game against Boise State. The fact that the committee felt the Flyers were the last team in the field screams disrespect. Especially with Davidson and VCU listed as 10 and 7 seeds.
The Atlantic 10’s “Who Wants Next Campaign” is in its second year and hopes to improve the perception of the league. The public relations firm in charge, 160over90, created the video above.

“Telling the story of the grittiness and uncompromising work ethic of the A-10, we’ve taken the ‘Next’ brand narrative to another level,” said Brendan Quinn, Creative Director at 160over90. “Highlighting the conference’s relentless commitment to advancing, this spot puts the spotlight directly on the hard work of the players. The hard work that starts in driveways, playgrounds, and gyms, and pays off in late March. The A-10 teams in the tournament are ready to make some noise. They know Next is now.”

Next may also be next year instead. VCU and Davidson will have a tough time getting to the Sweet 16 with Arizona and Gonzaga in the way. Dayton, the team who carried the A-10 in the tourney last year, may be the league’s best bet for a deep run yet again.

2. Mountain West

The Mountain West was trashed in an article on Grantland as a league to avoid in making picks.

“Until they can prove there’s any substance behind the hype, avoid MWC teams. This year, that means San Diego State (again), Boise State (somehow playing on the road against Dayton in the First Four), and Wyoming (playing a superior version of itself in Northern Iowa).”

That’s harsh, and it’s also all the ammunition the MWC needs to know this is a big tournament for its reputation. With Boise State losing to Dayton, the pressure is even higher on the remaining teams.

1. American Athletic Conference
The AAC had two bubble teams miss the field in Temple and Tulsa with the conference champion listed at a 6 seed. This is after the year UConn won the title. Damage control falls to Cincinnati and SMU in the tournament. Both teams are in tough positions for a round of 32 matchup in Kentucky and Iowa State. While proving the committee wrong is important, I doubt the AAC will be able to make much noise this time around.

Listening to Larry Brown and his disappointment about Temple and Tulsa shows just how real the situation is for the AAC.

My 2015 March Madness Picks

Last year’s bracket did fine considering it was a crazy year. Picking Mercer to beat Duke was enough credibility for me to roll my bracket on the internet again.

I have Kentucky winning it all and that sounds boring I know. The Wildcats are just that good. Sure, Kentucky will be tested (I have them playing Wisconsin in the semifinals and Virginia in the title game), but they should pass those tests. This Kentucky team is obviously superior to the team that scrapped past Wisconsin a year ago and came up short in the title game with UConn.

Virginia was the team I struggled with the most as I don’t know how healthy it will be. I just think the Cavaliers have gone too far to have another season end before the Final Four, though Michigan State and even Belmont could give them problems.

To the picks.

Midwest

My Midwest is crazy outside of Kentucky rolling through. Valpo is a solid team as I have it moving on to the Sweet 16. The Crusaders can defend and shoot 3s and that is a lethal combo. Texas is another surprise team here as the Longhorns are among the leaders in blocks in rebounds. When you look at their losses you see that most came to good Big 12 teams on the road and at Kentucky. Wichita State is the next hidden gem in the region as the Shockers have been waiting for a shot at Kansas for a long time. No way they let this slip.

In contrast the West is more predictable.

West

The East is about Virginia staying healthy. I added some upsets from the winner of Boise State/Dayton and Louisville having another deep run.

East

The South can be anyone but I like Utah as it is one of the few squads who can defend and score. This is also Gonzaga’s best chance at a deep tournament run. For a good upset, I’m going with Eastern Washington to shoot the 3 over a bigger Georgetown team.

South

The Tiny Easter Egg Hunt of College Athletics

Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, few athletic departments did much for Easter in social media. The lack of team photos with “Happy Easter” written underneath them was surprising.

The only exception I saw was the Big West Conference.

That’s right folks, the only league to really wish its followers a happy Easter was far from the Bible belt. Instead it was league based in liberal California. Go figure. Wichita State did get creative by having an Easter egg hunt during a baseball game. Each egg contained team memorabilia and goodies. Now that’s sports marketing at its finest.

Mercer did not do anything with Easter but it did succeed in tying its baseball team to Duck Dynasty. That’s pretty close I suppose.

When Duck Dynasty is used in sports marketing, the end is near.

A Bracket to Make Fun of

Since I’ve grown accustomed to being wrong on many things in life, I decided to go ahead and post my bracket. Maybe it will help you out with yours or just give you a good laugh. If you missed my upset specials you can find a detailed look at them here.

I’m picking Florida to win it all mainly because of their stellar defense.

I have Wichita State meeting them in the title game as the Shockers have played quality teams this year. Don’t believe the lies of Digger Phelps.

Now it’s time for you guys to laugh at me. Enjoy!

Bracket Florida 2014Bracket Virginia 2014Bracket WisconsinBracket WSU 2014

The RPI Case for Wichita State

With a pinwheel like this how can the Shockers not get a No. 1 seed.

With a pinwheel like this how can the Shockers not get a No. 1 seed.

We are over a month away from Selection Sunday and that means the mid-majors are under attack. But this year the mid-majors have a lightning rod to take all the heat, and that lightning rod is Wichita State.

Media personalities, big and small, are trying to find every reason they can as to why the undefeated Shockers should be denied a No. 1 seed. Even if the Shockers earn a 1 seed five weeks from now I can just see the “experts” picking them to lose in the second round. The talking head vultures are circling.

“Oh my God they play in the Missouri Valley. That’s like Division II basketball.” Now say that with the voice of Digger Phelps. Phelps trashed the notion of Wichita State obtaining a No. 1 seed Saturday suggesting it would get knocked out in the second round like Gonzaga was a year ago. Problem is Gonzaga was knocked out by … Wichita State.

Wichita State fans can either ignore all the negativity or start preparing their own defense. For those picking the latter here is a nerdy RPI argument to get things started.

While the experts focus on the strength of schedule of WSU’s Missouri Valley slate, they can’t attack its non-conference play. When compared to the other undefeated team, Syracuse, you might be shocked on how the Shockers stack up. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Both schools played 13 games out of conference and here is a list of those teams in chronological order. The only hitch is Wichita State opened against a Division II team in Emporia State. That school is not a part of the RPI, but it did win at Division I Missouri-Kansas City. For that achievement, I think we should at least give Emporia State the same RPI as UMKC. The RPI rankings below are as of February 3.

RPI compare

Out of the 26 schools on this non-conference list, Syracuse played four out the five worst teams. Even though Wichita State had the tougher task of getting quality teams to play in its gym, it lured sneaky mid-majors Western Kentucky and North Carolina Central. Both could end up in the tournament. Consecutive wins over two SEC teams, plus BYU and at Saint Louis should make up for the Missouri Valley schedule.

Syracuse only played one non-conference game on the road in St. John’s. Binghamton and Cornell are in the bottom 10 of Division I. If Wichita State is going to be penalized for playing in the Missouri Valley then shouldn’t Syracuse be penalized for playing cupcakes at home?

The point is trashing Wichita State’s strength of schedule is hypocritical. Every contender is going to play some bad teams. Syracuse can be judged by ESPN’s cookie-cutter formula, but mid-majors like Wichita State cannot. Do you think Villanova is going to travel to Wichita State? It’s amazing that Tennessee did.

Buckle up mid-majors of the world. The rhetoric is only going to get worse from here on out.