The college basketball season is at its end. The final stage of competition, the NCAA Tournament, is just about upon us. It will start next week. When the tournament begins, what should you look for and emphasize among the various teams in the field of 68?
More than polls or the new NET rankings, the KenPom indexes measure offensive and defensive efficiency among the various teams in college basketball. These statistics are instructive because they are tempo-free statistics. This means that the numbers adjust for teams on a per-possession basis.
Per-game statistics are limited in measuring the quality of a team for the simple reason that not all basketball games are played with a remotely equal pace. Some games are played very slowly, with comparatively fewer possessions. The two sides take the full amount of time on the shot clock and do not get into many fast-break situations. Other games involve very quick shots and tons of fast breaks. The per-game statistics for these two different kinds of games will be very different. Tempo-free stats look at each possession and measure how consistent teams are whenever they play offense or defense. This is the central value of KenPom, and why it is a reliable measurement of tournament teams.
The Guards Need To Be Capable Foul Shooters
The greatness of a guard doesn’t have to be found in his scoring numbers, but the man who has the ball most of the time on a possession has to be able to hit a good percentage of free throws. When that player is weak at the foul line, a one-and-one late in a game could mean disaster in the NCAA Tournament. You want to make sure that the top guard for a team gets his teammates involved and can hit free throws. Otherwise, it’s a bigger risk.
Points Per Possession Allowed On Defense
The points per possession metric is part of the KenPom formula. It is worth focusing on defense more than offense because a lot of NCAA games are decided by a long scoring drought. Teams which can create these droughts, and which can also prevent opponents from getting hot on 3-point shots, are the teams which can endure their own struggles on offense and win at least one NCAA Tournament game, if not more, with their defense. Michigan won a bunch of NCAA Tournament games last year in which it did not shoot well. Its defense was able to overcome its poor shooting. Look for a team which simply doesn’t give up much on defense.
You trust Tom Izzo more than Steve Wojciechowski. You trust Mark Few more than Matt Painter. You trust certain coaches more than others, as long as they have relatively even amounts of talent. Finding the balance between talent on rosters and quality of coaches is one of the central tasks one must engage in when picking the NCAA Tournament.
Who will be a No. 1 seed? Who will be a No. 5 seed? Those are all interesting questions, but you want to identify matchups and see if there are specific matchup advantages for the various teams involved. Matchups are so much more important than seeds. Keep that point in mind in March Madness.