It's boring, really. College basketball is 3-pointers and whistles, basically. There are 10-15 teams with most of the talent, and the others just shoot 3-pointers or try to get to the line. I've become pretty disenchanted with college basketball this year, and it only partially has to do with Mizzou. This just isn't very fun to watch. It's even less fun when your team is an absolute horror show when it comes to preventing teams from shooting 3s.
I wrote that back on Feb. 23, after [random SEC team] killed Missouri with uncommonly good three-point shooting. (It was Alabama.) The 2013-14 college basketball season was officially the one that made me hate the three-pointer; that's a rather strange development considering how much I tend to enjoy underdog tactics, and considering the role analytics have played in the increased frequency of the three-ball. I'm sure Missouri's own deficiencies in stopping anybody from shooting from behind the arc had a role to play in that -- I'm a fan at heart, after all -- but I began to find it boring when teams bombed away in non-Mizzou games, as well.
Regardless of my feelings on the three-pointer, it's most likely going to make for a pretty wacky (for better or worse) NCAA Tournament.
Yesterday, my friend Ed Feng wrote a piece for Grantland about the randomness of the three-pointer and the effect it tends to have on potential Final Four teams.
All 12 champions had a moderate or low 3-point rate. The 2006 Florida Gators, the first of Billy Donovan’s consecutive championship teams, had the highest rate in this 12-year span, at 34 percent. [...]
The takeaway is simple: Teams that rely on the 3 can stay hot for four games and make it to the Final Four, but it’s a lot harder to stay hot for six games and actually win it all.
Of the top eight teams (according to seeding) in this year's NCAA Tournament, five shoot three-pointers more frequently than the national average: Villanova, Michigan, Wisconsin, Wichita State and Florida. (Villanova and Creighton shoot an absolutely insane number of threes, actually.)
Thinking about the randomness of the three-pointer and the impact it might have on this year's tournament, I decided to use my bracket as a thought experiment. I created a rankings system based 80 percent on Ken Pomeroy's ratings and 20 percent on the frequency of three-pointers in a given team's games -- the frequency with which both a team and its opponent shoot threes. So teams like Villanova and Creighton, which both attempt and allow a ton of threes, are dinged quite a bit (along with Michigan, Michigan State, and Wichita State, among the top seeds), while teams based closer to the basket (Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Pittsburgh) are aided.
If you want to see what where the three-pointer is most likely to blow up the bracket, take a look at these results.
Like everybody else, I lean toward Florida and Louisville as heavy favorites in this year's tournament. Florida is experienced and deep and has been perhaps the most consistently strong team in the country. They are as safe a Final Four pick as there is in this bracket. But the Gators' reliance on long jumpers bites them at times and requires them to make late runs to put games away. (They're so successful because these "late runs" start with 10 minutes left in the game, not two minutes.)
A cold streak could be particularly damaging for Florida against a team like Pittsburgh, which is not nearly as reliant on the three-pointer. And if Florida does beat Pitt in the round of 32, a Kansas team that also doesn't rely on the three might be waiting in the Elite Eight. (I doubt that's the case -- with Joel Embiid's health situation and Kansas' general reliance on youth, the Jayhawks are certainly ripe for an upset for other reasons, though I like their draw quite a bit.)
I don't love Virginia's offense, and an athletic team like Memphis could give the Cavaliers some serious troubles and force some offensive droughts. But in this exercise, they're pretty safe. Actually, they benefit significantly from potential instability for Michigan State, Villanova, and Iowa State. All three of those teams are three-point dependent to a decent degree, which gives the steadier, more stable Hoos a chance to advance.
Arizona is a Pomeroy favorite this year, and the Wildcats only benefit from this three-point adjustment, as they almost never shoot threes (323rd in Three-Point Attempts Per FG Attempt on offense) and almost never allow you to shoot them either (14th in 3PA/FGA on defense). Their four losses (at California, at ASU, at smoking-hot Oregon, vs. UCLA) are all pretty forgivable, as well. They're the steadiest bet in this region, especially considering the potential for upsets in the 5-12 and 6-11 games ... not to mention Creighton's overall instability at the No. 3 seed.
I enjoyed this one. Wichita State made the Final Four last year and hasn't lost since the Final Four ... and the Shockers fall to Kentucky. Louisville is perhaps the hottest team in the field not named Florida ... and the Cardinals also fall to Kentucky. And then, as you'll see below, Kentucky loses to the team that barely survived Iowa last night.
Basically, what this tells us is that, while people have latched onto Louisville as a big favorite here, the Midwest Region might be far more likely to completely implode into chaos than we thought. And who doesn't like chaos?
So basically, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds survive in the top two regions, while the bottom two regions fall into anarchy. I'm not going to be placing a lot of money on North Carolina and Tennessee making the Final Four, but consider them chaos place-holders.
Teams like Florida and Louisville rely on three-pointers but also play defense well enough to withstand some droughts. But the more you rely on three-pointers, the more likely you are to encounter a pretty significant drought at one point or another through a four-game jaunt to the Final Four. And the more three-pointers you allow opponents to take, the more likely you are to encounter a team that gets smoking hot. (Florida allows quite a few; Louisville allows almost none.) If nothing else, this exercise points out where the favorites' most likely land mines could take shape and which areas of the bracket are most likely to blow up.