We have updated our predictions, based on the conference tournament play last week, and the Houston Cougars have dropped out of the running, with their offense slipping to 24th in the efficiency rankings.
(Make sure to read last week’s piece for the research background on this. It’s contextually important to understand what comes next!)
Here are the seven schools with a broad chance to win it all, based on past precedence of having Top 20 units at both ends of the court, statistically speaking:
- Virginia (2nd in offensive efficiency, 5th in defensive efficiency)
- Gonzaga (1st, 16th)
- Duke (6th, 6th)
- Michigan State (4th, 8th)
- Michigan (18th, 2nd)
- North Carolina (10th, 5th)
- Kentucky (13th, 12th)
The next threshold, as discussed last week, is Top 10/11 on both sides. That reduces our list to just four teams:
- Michigan State
- North Carolina
At this point, it does become a little more clear why the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee chose the three ACC teams above as No. 1 seeds, although it still does not explain why said committee put MSU and Duke in the same region. The Spartans should have been the fourth No. 1 seed, or rather the third, really, before UNC.
Balance is important, and the way the bracket crumbles is key, too. Take last year, for example, when Michigan was a No. 3 seed in its region—yet never faced a team seeded higher than sixth for its first five games until running into No. 1 Villanova in the title game and getting hammered hard.
You have to be good, and you have to be lucky, too, of course. And when the luck runs out, you need to be very good to win it all.
Virginia is going to have a lot of doubters, as the Cavaliers cannot seem to win in March when it matters despite stellar regular seasons. Will this year be any different? Until it is different, confidence runs low there.
The other three programs in the Top 10/11 list have a lot of coaching experience with the Final Four. We’re not going to bother counting them up, because our heads might spin. But the Blue Devils, the Spartans, and the Tar Heels are among the nation’s elite programs and have been for a very long time.
Take your pick on which one wins it all. Your guess is as good as ours (which we will publish tomorrow, incidentally).