Monday, March 9, 2015

A Hard Row to Hoe

Last year, I looked up every men's college basketball team fielded by Arizona, UConn, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, and UCLA from 2002 to 2014.  This gave me a database of 156 different teams.  According to Ken Pomeroy, only 12 of those teams featured a gap of 28 points or more between their offensive and defensive efficiencies.  Here's how they did in the tournament:

1.  2008 Kansas:  32.9 (won National Championship)
2.  2012 Kentucky:  31.4 (won National Championship)
3.  2011 Ohio St:  31.2 (lost to UK in Sweet 16) (that game probably cost OSU the nat'l title)
4.  2013 Louisville:  31.0 (won National Championship)
5.  2010 Duke:  30.5 (won National Championship)
6.  2002 Duke:  30.4 (lost to Indiana in Sweet 16)
7.  2005 UNC:  29.5 (won National Championship)
8.  2004 Duke:  29.5 (lost to UConn in Final Four)
9.  2010 Kansas:  29.5 (lost in second round to Northern Iowa)
10.  2009 UNC:  29.5 (won National Championship)
11.  2007 Florida:  28.9 (won National Championship)

12.  2007 Ohio St:  28.0 (lost to Florida in Final)

So out of 12 teams, we had:

7 National Champions
2 Teams that Reached the Final Four before losing to the National Champion
3 of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history

In other words, if you have a gap of 28 points or better between your offensive and defensive efficiencies, you are really, really good.

OK, here's the deal:  right now UK has a gap of 33.5 between its offensive efficiency (118.6) and its defensive efficiency (85.1).  It's the highest gap I believe that Ken Pom has in his database going back to 2002, and it shows that UK is one of the best college teams ever.  But look at some of these other schools:

2015 Wisconsin:  29.7
2015 Arizona:  29.1
2015 Villanova:  28.2
2015 Virginia:  27.7
2015 Duke:  26.4

I'm not sure there's been another season with this many strong teams at the top of the field.  In most years, Wisconsin, Arizona, or Villanova would be strong favorites to go all the way, and UVA and Duke are very close to that same level.

UK will have to beat at least two or three of these teams to win the tournament, and if they don't we'll have to hear about how overrated they were.  But the data say otherwise.  UK really and truly does have a great team – possibly the greatest team in modern history.  And they should be favored to win the tournament.  It just so happens that we are part of an unusually strong field.  (In 2012, for example, UK went all the way and never played a team with a gap bigger than 24.0).

If the national press would quit complaining so much and start paying attention to what's happening on the court, they would see that we could be on the verge of one of the best tournaments ever.