Inside The 2010 NCAA Bracket: Predictions Based On Statistics

With only 24 hours left to finalize your NCAA Tournament bracket, SB Nation's Matt O'Brien uses tempo-free statistics (forget the "eye test") to break down who the real contenders and possible sleeper teams are in this field.

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Inside The 2010 NCAA Bracket: Predictions (And Stats)

Ken Pomeroy is your friend. You may not know it yet, but he is. Pomeroy, of the eponymous kenpom.com, has been the pioneer and leading evangelist of tempo-free statistics in college basketball. For the uninitiated, tempo-free statistics show how efficient a team is: how many points they score and allow per possession.

The basic idea is that any counting stat -- points scored/allowed or rebounding margin, for instance -- gets distorted by a team's pace. Fast-breaking teams have more opportunities to score and get rebounds (and conversely allow more points), but that doesn't necessarily mean they are any better on offense (or worse on defense) than a plodding, half-court team. Pomeroy's efficiency ratings allow for an apples-to-apples comparison between stylistically different teams (hence the "tempo-free").

When it comes to filling out your bracket, Pomeroy's ratings are useful not for telling you who to pick, but rather who not to pick. It turns out that the "defenses wins championships" mantra is mostly right when it comes to college hoops. Teams that don't rate in the top-25 of defensive efficiency rarely make the Elite Eight, let alone the Final Four. As for the teams that typically advance to the national semifinals, they are, unsurprisingly, generally in the top-25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency; in other words, they're all-around elite teams. By simply eliminating the teams that don't meet these criteria, you can get a much simpler look at which top seeds have realistic aspirations to make it to Indianapolis and which don't.

We've broken down each region, listing the teams that have a chance to win the region ("Contenders"), those that have a good shot at making the Sweet 16 ("Best of the Rest"), and the lower seeds that could crash the party ("Cinderellas"). Teams' offensive efficiencies are listed first, followed by their defensive efficiencies.

MIDWEST REGION

Contenders

  • Kansas (2nd, 5th) - Let's not overthink this. Most years there's an obvious favorite (like UNC last season). More often than not that team ends up cutting down the nets while "One Shining Moment" blares on your television. This year, Kansas is that team. Yes, they'll have to navigate a veritable murderer's row in the Midwest region, but if any team is talented, deep and experienced enough to do so, it's the Jayhawks.
  • Ohio State (7th, 22nd) - So, about this Evan Turner fellow...he's quite good. But while it's easy to find yourself entranced by Turner's otherworldly talents, here's your obligatory reminder that Ohio State does have other players who are also capable. David Lighty (yes, the same one from the Greg Oden-Mike Conley team), William Buford and Jon Diebler all provide scoring punch from the outside. Good team defense and Evan Turner -- that's a combination that should take the Buckeyes far in the Big Dance.
  • Georgetown (10th, 33rd) - Few teams boast as talented a trio as Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. At their best, the Hoyas have shown that they can beat anyone (see Duke and Syracuse wins), while they've also proven that they're capable of losing to anyone (Rutgers and South Florida come to mind). Wright has been the team's bellwether, so his recent tear at the Big East tournament should give the Hoya faithful cause for optimism. An epic Sweet 16 showdown with Ohio State should await.

Best of the Rest

  • Maryland (6th, 40th) - ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez gives the Terps plenty of scoring punch, but Maryland simply isn't good enough defensively to hang with Kansas in a hypothetical Sweet 16 matchup.
  • Michigan State (38th, 27th) - Tom Izzo-coached teams usually do two things well: hit the offensive glass and defend. These Spartans are no exception, although they clearly miss the outside touch of now-departed big man Goran Suton. Expect a tight second-round game against Maryland, but not much else.

Cinderella

  • San Diego State (43rd, 42nd) - The flip side of a loaded region like the Midwest is that their are few realistic Cinderella possibilities. The Aztecs look to have the best chance of any double digit seed, thanks to being paired with an up-and-down Tennessee squad that could be ripe for an upset. Keep in mind too that San Diego State has a compelling argument that they've been underseeded; during Mountain West conference play they had the exact same point differential as 3-seed New Mexico, as SI's Andy Glockner points out. This matchup has the feel of a 7-10, so don't shy away from the Aztecs.

WEST REGION

Contenders

  • Syracuse (9th, 20th) - Come tournament time, teams with unusual, difficult-to-prepare-for styles of play usually excel. Syracuse's aggressive 2-3 zone certainly qualifies as such. If big-man Arinze Onuaku can come back and be effective, the Orange should be cutting down the nets in the West region.
  • Kansas State (16th, 19th) - While K-State might be unwatchable at times on offense (just ask Bobby Knight), they're a team that's built for March, with their ability to lock other teams down. If Onuaku isn't at full strength in time for a hypothetical Elite Eight matchup, Kansas State could very well find themselves going to Indianapolis. Not bad for a coach who was seemingly promoted just to keep Michael Beasley from leaving a few years ago.
  • BYU (12th, 21st) - Odds are you saw BYU climb the polls the past few weeks and wondered "who are these guys?" Apparently the NCAA tournament selection committee thought the same thing, giving the Cougars a 7-seed despite their impressive profile. BYU should handle a maddeningly inconsistent Florida team in the first round, setting up what should be the game of the region against Kansas State in the second round. The winner of that game should be a shoo-in for the regional final.

Best of the Rest

  • Xavier (15th, 50th) - Pittsburgh has a slightly better statistical profile, but as Benjamin Disraeli said, there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The Panthers overachieved in a deep Big East, but are overseeded a few lines. Don't be surprised if the battle-tested Musketeers sneak past them into the second weekend.

Cinderellas

  • Minnesota (23rd, 43rd) - That's assuming, of course, that Xavier advances past what could be a pesky Minnesota team. The Gophers mounted a late-season charge in the Big 10 tournament before running into the Evan Turners, so they have a good bit of momentum going for them.
  • UTEP (78th, 14th) - The Miners certainly have the size inside and defensive proficiency to make it to the second weekend of the tourney. Butler is a high-profile mid-major opponent, but the Bulldogs' resume lacks any eye-opening wins (outside of beating an Evan Turner-less Ohio State), and UTEP could pose plenty of matchup problems for them with Derrick Caracter inside.
  • Murray State (68th, 45th) - It's not Vanderbilt's fault that the NCAA selection committee keeps overseeding them and pairing them with dangerous 13-seeds. Two years ago it was Siena; this year it's Murray State.

EAST REGION

Contenders

  • Kentucky (18th, 10th) - Let's see: a dynamic/explosive/jaw-dropping freshman point guard who will likely be the top overall pick, a top-notch defensive team that makes life miserable for other teams at the rim, and John Calipari at the helm. Sounds like Memphis, circa 2008, doesn't it? And Bill Self is waiting with a loaded Kansas team, to boot. Kentucky will have its fair share of hurdles in the East region, but expect their talent to trump their inexperience, as they book a ticket for the Final Four and a potential Self-Calipari rematch for the national title.
  • West Virginia (11th, 24th) - Da'Sean Butler is rapidly approaching "close-your-eyes-if-you're-a-fan-of-the-opposing-team-and-pray" status. Butler put on an absolute show in MSG during the Big East tournament, beating both Cincinnati and Georgetown at the buzzer, and the Mountaineers appear to be peaking at just the right time. With the physical way they both attack on the offensive glass and defend, West Virginia should be a difficult out for any team, even Kentucky.
  • Wisconsin (13th, 7th) - Name a player on Wisconsin. I dare you. Unless you hail from Big Ten country, you probably can't. It's okay. Bo Ryan will just continue to plug relatively anonymous players into his swing offense and rack up the wins. This year's Wisconsin team has the statistical profile of a 1-seed, and their deliberate style of play could give Kentucky fits in a possible regional semifinal. The only chink in the Badger's metaphorical armor is that they have struggled a bit away from the very-friendly confines of the Kohl Center. Still, if you're looking for a team to trip up the inexperienced Wildcats, then look no further than Bo Ryan's squad.
  • Texas (26th, 26th) - That sound you hear is Longhorns fans throwing their keyboards against their collective walls. Their strong early-season play has buoyed Texas in the cumulative rankings, but anyone who has watched this team the past month knows that a first-round loss is more likely than a run to even the Sweet 16.

Best of the Rest

  • Temple (77th, 3rd) - The Owls are one of the premier defensive squads in the nation but they drew a brutal first-round matchup in Cornell. Assuming Temple can escape out of the first-round, Wisconsin should await them in what would promise to be a slugfest. The Sweet 16 appears to be their ceiling.

Cinderellas

  • Washington (32nd, 38th) - These Huskies should make you think of Villanova, circa 2008. Those Wildcats snuck in as a 12-seed after a disappointing regular season, but managed to take advantage of some soft matchups to reach the Sweet 16. Washington has the same potential here. Pegged as a top-20 team before the season began, the Huskies struggled, before piecing things together late en route to the Pac-10 tournament title. With undersized and defensively challenged Marquette as their first-round foe, the Huskies could very well find themselves in a second-round matchup with badly overseeded New Mexico. And playing in nearby San Jose won't hurt either.
  • Cornell (28th, 139th) - The Big Red are the best worst-kept secret in college basketball. Indeed, it's hard to call a team that cracked the top-25 a month ago a "sleeper", but that's what Cornell is after getting handed a 12-seed in the tournament. The Big Red boast a veteran club making its third-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, so the big stage shouldn't be too much for them. That, combined with their NCAA-leading 43% shooting from 3-point land explains how they nearly knocked off Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse back in January. Look for them to finally break through and win a game or two this time time around.

SOUTH REGION

Contender

  • Duke (1st, 4th) - Let's get this out of the way: Duke isn't very good. At all. Sure, their statistical profile is that of an elite team, but the Dookies benefited from an overrated ACC (their best win was at home against Maryland) and don't boast any big non-conference wins. In any other region, Dick Vitale's favorite team would be a mortal lock to head home by the Sweet 16...but in the diluted South, the Blue Devils are the odds-on favorites to make it to Indianapolis. Thanks, NCAA selection committee.

Best of the Rest

  • Baylor (5th, 52nd) - Out of desperation to find a plausible alternative to Duke in the South region, Baylor has become something of a trendy pick more or less by default. After all, Villanova is falling apart and Purdue sans Robbie Hummel is an ugly thing to watch. But while the Bears can certainly pile on the points, their defensive profile hardly fits that of a Final Four-caliber team. Then again, the South region hardly fits the profile of a typical NCAA bracket. If Ekpe Udoh can control the paint, Baylor should have a good chance to make the regional final, if not farther.
  • Texas A&M (39th, 23rd) - For those of you praying to be saved from Jim Nantz gushing about Duke's "grit" and "tenacity", the Aggies may be your best hope. Texas A&M defends reasonably well, and their near-win over Kansas in February shows that they can play at a high level. That, and the fact that if the Aggies make it to the Sweet 16, they'd get to play in front of a presumably rabid home-crowd in Houston, could make them the surprise team that does everyone outside of Durham a favor, and knock off the Blue Devils.

Cinderellas

  • Richmond (67th, 36th) - The Spiders might be too high a seed to qualify as a true "Cinderella", but since they come from the non-BCS Atlantic-10, we're putting them here anyway. If Richmond can slip past Saint Mary's in the first round (no sure thing), the bottom of the bracket could easily open up for them. Villanova as a 2-seed is a farce -- the Wildcats have lost five of seven games due to their struggles on defense -- and after that, Richmond would potentially see another defensively-challenged team in Baylor. A Texas A&M-Richmond regional final? Please make this happen, if only to make Billy Packer's head explode.
  • Old Dominion (72nd, 16th) - Hmmm, an 11-seed out of the CAA with an eminently winnable path to the regional finals, where a potentially vulnerable 1-seed awaits...sounds like George Mason wants their script back. Could lightning strike twice? Thanks to their stalwart defense, the Monarchs are a decent bet to pull off a string of upsets (just ask Georgetown if Old Dominion can play with the big boys).
  • Utah State (14th, 54th) - Unfortunately for Texas A&M, their biggest challenge may simply be getting out of the first round. Utah State (also the Aggies) has the makings of a Cinderella: an upperclassmen-laden team with a deliberate, efficient offense. This is a classic matchup where whoever wins has a chance to make deep run in the tournament. Choose wisely between your Aggies.
  • Siena (66th, 59th) - Purdue misses Robbie Hummel. Badly. As in, they scored 11 points in the first half against Minnesota in the Big 10 tournament, kind of badly. Siena has won NCAA tournament games the past two seasons, so even though their profile may not suggest it, they're a decent bet to keep playing into the weekend.
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