As the calendar turns to March, you can ensure the craziness of college basketball will ensue after the bracket for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament is set. The tournament, better known as “March Madness,” has churned out moments that live on forever every year, and it’s almost a certainty this year’s version will too.
This year’s tournament projects to be very tightly contested as the level of parity within college basketball is the highest it’s been in recent memory.
There hasn’t been one truly dominant team this season, and there is lots of movement to be made from teams looking to secure No. 1 seeds to teams from the outside looking in on the bubble. This includes last year’s runner-up North Carolina, the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll that needs to make waves in their conference tournament if they want to be granted admission into the big dance.
“If it wasn’t for ‘North Carolina’ on the chest and we were looking at a team 1-8 in quad one with a NET of 47, they wouldn’t even be this close,” said ESPN’s Joe Lunardi on Feb. 27. “But it’s human nature. There’s no other bubble team that was in the National Championship game last year.”
While the backcourt of R.J. Davis and Caleb Love paired with senior forward Armando Bacot try and get the Tar Heels back on track, there are other great talents on the teams that appear destined to find their way to Houston for the Final Four.
Zach Edey is far and away the most dominant big man in the country for the Purdue Boilermakers. The best freshman in the country is right up there with Edey in the National Player of the Year conversation for Alabama in forward Brandon Miller.
“Everything Purdue does is built around star center Zach Edey, the 7’4 behemoth poised to be college basketball’s national player of the year,” SB Nation wrote in a March 3 article. “With two standout freshmen (Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith) and a couple of savvy vets around him, Purdue’s pieces just fit better this year even if the talent isn’t as overwhelming.”
For those looking to fill out a bracket of their own, there are trends that can be looked at to determine a national champion. Using data from KenPom.com which provides advanced statistical analysis for every Division I team, every champion since 2002 outside of the 2014 UConn Huskies has entered March Madness ranked in the top 21 in offensive efficiency and top 37 in defensive efficiency.
Through March 2, there are seven teams that already fill this mold this season. The glass slipper fits for Houston, Kansas, Alabama, Purdue, Texas and UConn. This reflects in the bracketology where all are essential locks to be high seeds, as Lunardi projects UConn to be the worst of the bunch as a No. 4 seed in the East Region as of March 3.
Kansas is one of the hottest teams out of the bunch and secured the Big 12 regular season title in a conference where nine teams rank in the Top 50 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).
“[Bill] Self replaced four of his top six scorers from a team that won the national championship last season,” wrote Chip Patterson for CBS Sports. “Yet he finds himself with a team, and a profile, that will be considered for the first overall spot in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.”
There are other teams that can make noise too based off the KenPom trends. UCLA, Indiana, Maryland and Creighton all nearly miss the top 21/37 threshold. All four of these teams are within 8 spots in either category and can easily make a deep run too.
In terms of the other high-profile teams not listed, the data tells us is that there are some teams in high regard of AP voters that can make earlier exits than what’s reflected by their position in the polls.
The analytics don’t love AP top 10 teams in the Feb. 27 poll like Marquette, Baylor, Arizona and Gonzaga. Other ranked teams that are likely to fall short of a deep run range from top 15 teams like Kansas State, Tennessee and Virginia to very good teams outside the Power Six conferences like St. Mary’s and San Diego State.
It is nearly impossible to predict every game right in the bracket, and that’s what makes March Madness so fun. From a field of 68 teams, only four can make it to Houston.
The Second Round will tip-off on March 16, and you can watch the madness unfold on the CBS family of networks.