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The best men’s college basketball offenses of 2020-21

This is a simple post. It’s the most efficient men’s college basketball offenses of the 2020-21 season, a continuation of a project I’ve done in years prior

First up, the Synergy Sports section. This one is pretty simple: it’s the 20 best offenses of the season, as determined by a minimum number of possessions (1100 or more). Normally, I don’t really have to filter out many teams, but there was a huge variety in how many games teams were able to play this season thanks to COVID-19. Two of the teams in the top 20 here only played 13 games, while one played 35. We’ve never had that much of a disparity in games played, and hopefully, we’ll never have it again.

Something unusual also happened: there was a four-way tie for 19th, which means this list is 22 teams long instead of 20. I’ve included the extra two, because they shouldn’t be excluded arbitrarily.

The difference between this section and the next is a simple one. Synergy includes offensive rebounds as separate possessions; most other places out there count them as part of the same possession. I’ve included both calculations.

Honorable Mentions: Fairmont State (1.015 PPP), Virginia (1.017), Bellarmine (1.018).

T-19. William Penn University Statesmen (Oskaloosa, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.019
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (93rd-percentile)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 49.7% Rim, 11.6% Non-Rim Twos, 38.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 68.3% Rim, 45.5% Non-Rim Twos, 32.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 84.29 possessions (would rank 1st of 347 teams in D-1)

T-19. St. Edward’s Hilltoppers (Austin, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.019
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Isolation (95th), Spot-Up (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 31.3% Rim, 20.4% Non-Rim Twos, 48.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.4% Rim, 42.3% Non-Rim Twos, 36.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.76 possessions (37th of 347)

T-19. Marietta Pioneers (Marietta, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.019
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Off-Screen (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.4% Rim, 25.9% Non-Rim Twos, 35.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.9% Rim, 40.7% Non-Rim Twos, 39.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.98 possessions (8th of 347)

T-19. Iowa Hawkeyes (Iowa City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.019
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Post-Up (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.9% Rim, 24.3% Non-Rim Twos, 39.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.8 possessions (98th of 347)

T-17. Marian Knights (Indianapolis, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.021
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), Post-Up (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 33.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.3% Rim, 43.4% Non-Rim Twos, 35.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.9 possessions (183rd of 347)

T-17. Hillsdale Chargers (Hillsdale, MI)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.021
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (98th), Post-Up (97th), Cut (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 44.2% Rim, 20.7% Non-Rim Twos, 35.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.7% Rim, 39.1% Non-Rim Twos, 35.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 67.8 possessions (233rd of 347)

16. Colgate Raiders (Hamilton, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.033
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (97th), Cut (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 47.2% Rim, 16.5% Non-Rim Twos, 36.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.3% Rim, 34.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.6 possessions (44th of 347)

T-14. Weber State Wildcats (Ogden, UT)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.035
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Cut (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36% Rim, 25.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67.3% Rim, 44% Non-Rim Twos, 38.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.5 possessions (78th of 347)

T-14. Dubuque Spartans (Dubuque, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.035
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (95th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.6% Rim, 30.6% Non-Rim Twos, 35.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.2% Rim, 45.8% Non-Rim Twos, 44.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.23 possessions (18th of 347)

13. West Texas A&M Buffaloes (Canyon, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.036
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.7% Rim, 21.9% Non-Rim Twos, 44.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.2% Rim, 41.3% Non-Rim Twos, 36.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.21 possessions (8th of 347)

12. West Liberty Hilltoppers (West Liberty, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.038
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): none; highest Off-Screen (89th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.3% Rim, 14.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.8% Rim, 46% Non-Rim Twos, 36% 3PT
  • Tempo: 82.44 possessions (1st of 347)

11. Liberty Flames (Lynchburg, VA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.042
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Transition (96th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.2% Rim, 13.3% Non-Rim Twos, 47.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.7% Rim, 45.3% Non-Rim Twos, 39% 3PT
  • Tempo: 64.7 possessions (334th of 347)

10. Charleston Golden Eagles (Charleston, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.048
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cut (100th), Spot-Up (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43% Rim, 15.8% Non-Rim Twos, 41.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 69% Rim, 40.5% Non-Rim Twos, 37.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.7 possessions (102nd of 347)

T-8. Westmont Warriors (Santa Barbara, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.052
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.2% Rim, 16.6% Non-Rim Twos, 42.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.4% Rim, 47.6% Non-Rim Twos, 38.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.71 possessions (2nd of 347)

T-8. Huntington University Foresters (Huntington, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.052
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (9th), Transition (97th), Spot-Up (94th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.9% Rim, 17.8% Non-Rim Twos, 44.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.1% Rim, 52% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.16 possessions (18th of 347)

7. Dallas Baptist Patriots (Dallas, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.07
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Post-Up (98th), Transition (91st), P&R Ball Handler (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.2% Rim, 16.1% Non-Rim Twos, 44.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.4% Rim, 50.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.84 possessions (22nd of 347)

6. Northwestern College Red Raiders (Orange City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.071
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Transition (99th), Post-Up (97th), Isolation (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.9% Rim, 21% Non-Rim Twos, 38.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 69% Rim, 45.3% Non-Rim Twos, 39.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.77 possessions (36th of 347)

5. Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (Harrogate, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.075
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (95th), Cut (91st), Hand-Off (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.8% Rim, 8.8% Non-Rim Twos, 45.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67% Rim, 35.9% Non-Rim Twos, 40.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 77.35 possessions (2nd of 347)

4. Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (Marion, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.084
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cut (98th), Post-Up (98th), Transition (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.1% Rim, 19.2% Non-Rim Twos, 32.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 68% Rim, 43.5% Non-Rim Twos, 37.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.75 possessions (2nd of 347)

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Spokane, WA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.085
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (100th), Cut (99th), Transition (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), P&R Roll Man (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.2% Rim, 18.5% Non-Rim Twos, 33.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 72.6% Rim, 41.5% Non-Rim Twos, 36.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.3 possessions (14th of 347)

2. Lubbock Christian Chaps (Lubbock, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.114
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Everything except P&R Ball Handler and P&R Roll Man were in the 92nd-percentile or higher.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.2% Rim, 21.4% Non-Rim Twos, 41.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.9% Rim, 46.8% Non-Rim Twos, 43% 3PT
  • Tempo: 66.7 possessions (#285 of 347)

1. Northwest Missouri State Bearcats (Maryville, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.12
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Literally every single play type that isn’t putbacks.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.1% Rim, 11.5% Non-Rim Twos, 46.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67.6% Rim, 41.9% Non-Rim Twos, 42.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 65.7 possessions (#317 of 347)

NEXT PAGE: Top 20 via traditional possession calculations

The best women’s college basketball offenses of 2020-21

This is a very simple post. It’s a list of the most efficient women’s college basketball offenses this season, and it’s a list I’ve made in years prior. This year, I cut the list from 25 down to 20 for one simple reason: COVID-19 and a lower number of games than normal.

There will be two calculations included here. The first, and the one I note in tweets, is from Synergy Sports, which accumulates stats from every single college basketball program in America. Their points per possession numbers will look smaller than most for one specific reason: Synergy notes offensive rebounds as separate possessions. Most others (i.e. KenPom, StatBroadcast, etc.) do not.

First up, Synergy. This one is pretty simple: it’s the 20 best offenses of the season, as determined by a minimum number of possessions (1100 or more). Normally, I don’t really have to filter out many teams, but there was a huge variety in how many games teams were able to play this season thanks to COVID-19. Hopefully, this is the only season we’ll ever have to filter out teams again.

20. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (Duluth, MN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.93
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (99th-percentile), Spot-Up (97th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.5% Rim (0-4 feet from the rim), 28% Non-Rim Twos, 32.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.9% Rim, 38.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36% 3PT
  • Tempo: 66.03 possessions

19. Taylor University Trojans (Upland, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.932
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Post-Up (94th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 31.5% Rim, 14.8% Non-Rim Twos, 53.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61% Rim, 36.7% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.39 possessions

18. Colorado State Rams (Fort Collins, CO)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.933
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 31.5% Rim, 35.5% Non-Rim Twos, 33% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.3% Rim, 37.7% Non-Rim Twos, 37.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.83 possessions

17. Central Michigan Chippewas (Mount Pleasant, MI)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.934
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Spot-Up (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.2% Rim, 21.1% Non-Rim Twos, 45.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.4% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.55 possessions

16. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (New Brunswick, NJ)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.936
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.2% Rim, 30.7% Non-Rim Twos, 32.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.4% Rim, 37.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.27 possessions

T-14. Stanford Cardinal (Palo Alto, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.937
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Cut (94th), Spot-Up (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.3% Rim, 23.7% Non-Rim Twos, 36% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.6% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 37.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.81 possessions

T-14. New Mexico Lobos (Albuquerque, NM)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.937
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Off-Screen (99th), Cut (93rd), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.5% Rim, 20.8% Non-Rim Twos, 45.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.5% Rim, 42.5% Non-Rim Twos, 32.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.06 possessions

13. Louisville Cardinals (Louisville, KY)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.939
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 35.9% Rim, 30.4% Non-Rim Twos, 33.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.6% Rim, 39.6% Non-Rim Twos, 34.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.16 possessions

12. Westminster College Lady Griffins (Salt Lake City, UT)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.944
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (99th), Cut (99th), Spot-Up (95th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.3% Rim, 26.3% Non-Rim Twos, 32.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 58.8% Rim, 43% Non-Rim Twos, 36.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 66.31 possessions

11. North Carolina State Wolfpack (Raleigh, NC)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.946
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (98th), Spot-Up (96th), Transition (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.8% Rim, 28.3% Non-Rim Twos, 31.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.4% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.61 possessions

10. Sterling College Warriors (Sterling, KS)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.948
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.6% Rim, 35% Non-Rim Twos, 24.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.5% Rim, 43.2% Non-Rim Twos, 39.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.23 possessions

9. Drury Panthers (Springfield, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.956
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), Hand-Off (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.8% Rim, 35.6% Non-Rim Twos, 27.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.4% Rim, 41.7% Non-Rim Twos, 34.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.97 possessions

8. Lubbock Christian Chaps (Lubbock, TX)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.963
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (97th), Post-Up (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.9% Rim, 18.3% Non-Rim Twos, 39.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 58.2% Rim, 40.7% Non-Rim Twos, 36.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.13 possessions

7. Bryan College Lions (Dayton, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.964
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), Spot-Up (96th), P&R Ball Handler (94th), Cut (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.7% Rim, 13.1% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 56.9% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 37.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 79.71 possessions

6. Arkansas Razorbacks (Fayetteville, AR)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.975
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Hand-Off (96th), P&R Ball Handler (94th), Transition (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.7% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 38.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.5% Rim, 33.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.64 possessions

5. Connecticut Huskies (Storrs, CT)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.986
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (98th), Cut (97th), Post-Up (95th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.3% Rim, 22% Non-Rim Twos, 31.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67.3% Rim, 51.7% Non-Rim Twos, 35.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.4 possessions

4. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Fort Myers, FL)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.988
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (100th), Off-Screen (97th), Cut (96th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.3% Rim, 7.8% Non-Rim Twos, 54.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.6% Rim, 49.3% Non-Rim Twos, 32.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.56 possessions

3. Cedarville Yellow Jackets (Cedarville, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 0.993
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), P&R Ball Handler (93rd), Hand-Off (93rd), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.4% Rim, 20.8% Non-Rim Twos, 42.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.4% Rim, 36.7% Non-Rim Twos, 38.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.7 possessions

2. Maryland Terrapins (College Park, MD)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.023
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), Spot-Up (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Cut (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.9% Rim, 28.2% Non-Rim Twos, 29.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.4% Rim, 41.2% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.25 possessions

1. Iowa Hawkeyes (Iowa City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.034
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Everything but Isolation, Hand-Off, and P&R Roll Man.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.1% Rim, 23.4% Non-Rim Twos, 38.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.5% Rim, 45.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.28 possessions

NEXT PAGE: Top 20 teams by traditional possession calculations

Final Four Preview: (1) Baylor vs. (2) Houston

No long-winded introduction here; this is merely the game I’ve been hoping to see since the Field of 68 was announced. (Though I’m still a little sore over Ohio State blowing it in the first round. I root for you people once and that’s how you repay me?) These are two shot volume machines, with Houston being the very best team in America in terms of generating shots per 100 possessions. Baylor hits a ton of threes; Houston brutalizes you for 40 minutes. It’s the most enjoyable matchup of styles we’ll get until the title game.

When Houston has the ball

No proper Houston preview can start without heading directly to their prime strength (and Baylor’s main team weakness): rebounding. Or, if you prefer, shot volume versus shot efficiency. I started noticing a very specific trend that I decided to call The Houston because no other team does it so frequently and so brutally. To achieve The Houston, you need to rebound 35% or more of your misses and turn it over on 16% or less of your possessions. Houston did it 15 times this season. No other team in America got past eight.

It’s why the Cougars’ struggles in actually hitting shots has been the B-story of sorts. In the NCAA Tournament alone, Houston has posted 63, 62, and 67 points in their last three games, with an eFG% of 44.1%, 44.2%, and 41.1% along the way. They went 9-for-30 on two-pointers against Oregon State and 14-for-37 against Rutgers. By all means, teams that post those numbers generally shouldn’t be anywhere near the Final Four. And yet: here’s the Houston Cougars, who have only posted a sub-1 PPP five times this year and keep getting there because of an absolutely bonkers amount of offensive rebounds.

The Cougars have rebounded 39.8% of their misses, the second-highest rate in college basketball and the highest by any Final Four team not named North Carolina since 2014. This is important, because we should note that offensive rebounding percentage has slowly dwindled over the last 15 years and tied for an all-time low this season at just 28%. Offensive rebounds will always be important, but they don’t hold the same level of importance that they did in, say, 2006. You can’t tell Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars that, though. You certainly can’t tell their opponents this March, either. Houston has attempted 51 more field goals and 13 more free throws than their NCAA Tournament opposition because they are demolishing the glass:

Houston has been held below a 30% OREB% twice all season, the last of which was over two months ago against Temple. It really hasn’t mattered as to who the opposition is, either. Houston has played teams ranked 25th (Boise State), 31st (Memphis, twice), and 38th (Western Kentucky) in defensive rebounding; the Cougars went for 41.7%, 36.6%, 37.9%, and 35.3% OREB%, respectively. They’ve gone 43% or better in three of four NCAA Tournament games.

This is a serious problem for Baylor before we even get to actual attacks/counterattacks strategy. The Bears rank 273rd in defensive rebounding percentage, easily the lowest ranking of the remaining Final Four teams. In the team’s first loss to Kansas in late February, the Bears allowed the Jayhawks to rebound an astounding 48.3% of their misses, which helped Kansas overcome a 3-for-16 day from deep and Baylor winning the turnover battle 14-3.

If that level of poor defensive rebounding shows up, the Bears may be done before the game even starts. Even if their normal levels attend, it’s going to be very tough. Of Baylor’s four NCAA Tournament opponents, only one (Arkansas) ranked above the national average in offensive rebounding. They haven’t really faced a tough test on this front since playing West Virginia in early March, but even Arkansas and Villanova easily beat their season averages in terms of offensive rebounding. Villanova, a team that averaged rebounding 27.8% of their misses this year and is not exactly tall, got back a third of their missed shots. Arkansas: 37.9%.

If Baylor can’t clean this up, the game really could swing Houston’s way to an extent a lot of people may not expect.

Beyond the rebounding battle, there’s two clear areas where Houston has to succeed: finding open shots from deep and avoiding getting themselves into a mid-range chuck-fest. Houston would be a fairly ideal underdog in a different setting for two reasons: they keep the tempo very slow (64.9 possessions per game, 319th of 347 teams) and they jack up lots of threes. 42.5% of all Houston shots are from downtown, and their 34.9% hit rate is a bit above the national average.

The primary shooter is Quentin Grimes, the Kansas transfer who entered late-bloomer status this year and quietly became one of the best players in college basketball. Grimes is shooting 41.2% from deep on 240 attempts, and as evidenced by Houston’s run so far, he’s very unafraid to shoot. Grimes has taken a hilarious 39 three-point attempts in four games, but he’s backing it up by having hit 17 of these so far (43.6%). In fact, Grimes has hit at least four threes in seven straight games and nine of the last ten despite being the primary offensive focus for opponents to gameplan against, which is very impressive.

Grimes has been lethal this year in the Cougars’ rare transition runs: 30-for-59 in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and 69-for-181 on all other attempts. It’s not natural for Houston to run and gun, but when you have a shooter as good as Grimes, you’re kind of obligated to do it occasionally. Watch for Houston to push the pace off of steals and, every now and then, off of a particularly bad Baylor miss.

Baylor’s defense has been excellent this season, and aside from a blip in February/March due to their three-week COVID pause, they’ve been hard to score on. The most successful team to do so in this Tournament was easily Arkansas, who didn’t shoot particularly well from deep but worked to push the pace off of misses + rare steals. By doing so, it earned the Razorbacks several open layups when Baylor wasn’t settled, as well as forcing some key Bear defenders into foul trouble. Still, this is a Baylor defense that’s excellent at guarding threes and even better at forcing the right people to take them.

Lastly: ball screens. We haven’t seen Houston run a massive amount of these over their last couple of games, as both Syracuse and Oregon State went heavy with zone defense in an attempt to force the Cougars to shoot over the top of them. Houston has a good zone offense, but zones take away Houston’s two most efficient play types: transition ball and the pick-and-roll. Houston’s ball-screen offense ranks in the 80th-percentile, per Synergy, with the ball handler having a ton of success. The main ball handlers this season have been DeJon Jarreau, Marcus Sasser, and Grimes, with Grimes/Sasser being more likely to pull up for threes and Jarreau being more likely to take a mid-range jumper.

Baylor’s goal in this game should be taking away these jumpers from Jarreau and forcing him/Sasser to shoot over the top of them instead. Neither Jarreau (35.2% 3PT%) nor Sasser (32.6%) are quite as automatic from deep as you’d hope, but both are solid rim scorers, and everyone in Houston’s main rotation converts at least 57% of their attempts at the rim. The problem: they don’t get to the rim all that often (25.8% of all attempts). If Baylor can drag Houston’s possessions out and force them to take 25-footers deep in the shot clock, it’s an optimal outcome for Scott Drew and company.

They just have to remember to rebound. Good luck!

NEXT PAGE: When Baylor has the ball

Final Four Preview: (1) Gonzaga vs. (11) UCLA

Amazingly, of all possible games Gonzaga could’ve been involved in to make the national title game, this is the opponent they drew. The team responsible for what was the definitive Gonzaga loss for a generation. The team that went all the way to the title game that year. A program with so much history, so many championships, and so much success…and a program that we are now simultaneously treating as a massive underdog against the team that championed being the underdog.

This is a weird game to preview, but I can’t help but love it. It’s been a weird year. We deserved at least one out-of-nowhere Final Four game, and I’m sure Gonzaga fans are probably happy that they’re the likely beneficiary of such a draw. But: you cannot underestimate this UCLA team. No one has for weeks now, not after they knocked off analytics darling Alabama and sentimental favorite Michigan. (Do you realize how cool Juwan Howard has to be to make Michigan a sentimental favorite?) They’re coming into this one with nothing to lose against the one team that hasn’t experienced a loss to date. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

NEXT PAGE: When UCLA has the ball

Game Preview: (12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola Chicago

Here comes a Sweet Sixteen fixture that roughly 0.36% of people appear to have projected, per ESPN. It was one thing for Loyola Chicago to be a top 10 KenPom team, to be underrated the entire season, to get an 8 seed they deserved better than…but it was honestly an entire other thing for an Oregon State team that entered the Pac-12 Tournament outside the KenPom top 100 to be here, too.

To put it in perspective, think of it this way: every other 12 seed, two 13 seeds, and a 14 seed all were picked by more people to make the Sweet Sixteen than the Beavers. Who could blame them? The Beavers have gone from an afterthought that hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 39 years to 40 minutes away from their second Elite Eight appearance in the last 55 years. For Loyola, it’s a chance to show everyone that 2018 wasn’t a one-hit wonder. While this isn’t the game anyone saw coming, it’s perhaps the game with the richest possible storylines.

NEXT PAGE: When Oregon State has the ball

Key stats and notes for each Sweet Sixteen matchup

During the regular season, I provided what I called “stat sheets” to a few key people. These included broadcasters, SIDs, and anyone that was curious. Tennessee’s season is over, but college basketball isn’t, and it seems like a waste to not do these anymore. I don’t know if any broadcasters will end up seeing these, but if it helps even one fan view a game through a different lens, I’ve done well.

In order are this weekend’s eight Sweet Sixteen games, with stats and notes on all 16 teams involved. I’m going to be doing these for the Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship, and as fewer games are played, the sheets will grow larger.

NEXT PAGE: Saturday’s games

Ranking the Round of 32 games by watchability

Just like Thursday’s post, but for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are based on a combination of quality offense + closeness of the matchup + interesting players + whatever other factors I cook up.

These are not meant to be taken too seriously.

Sunday

Five Basketballs

1. (8) Loyola Chicago vs. (1) Illinois (12:10 PM ET, CBS)
2. (11) Syracuse vs. (3) West Virginia (5:10 PM ET, CBS)
3. (9) Wisconsin vs. (1) Baylor (2:40 PM ET, CBS)

This is flawless scheduling by Turner; the three best games of the day are all on the network everyone has and will all be over by about 7:30 PM ET, meaning early Monday risers probably won’t have to fret about missing an instant classic. Loyola is the second-highest rated sub-2 seed in the field behind USC and will give Illinois all they want for 40 minutes. Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim is the hottest shooter left in the Tournament and could single-handedly burn West Virginia down. Wisconsin/Baylor is a game that sounds unappetizing on paper but is quietly a matchup of #4 vs. #12 in KenPom. Again, worth remembering just how brutal a path Baylor has even with Ohio State out of the field.

Four Basketballs

4. (6) Texas Tech vs. (3) Arkansas (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
5. (10) Rutgers vs. (2) Houston (7:10 PM ET, TBS)

Both of these are pretty good games, but neither quite have the firepower to be must-watches. The first half of Texas Tech’s game on Friday was absolutely miserable to watch, and the 26-23 halftime score felt generous. Arkansas looked a lot better in the second half against Colgate, but they were similarly brutal for a solid 15-20 minutes. Worth noting that this is the single closest projected scoring margin (~0.2 points) of this round, though, so you’re pretty likely to get some sort of a good finish. Meanwhile, Rutgers is not a fun team to watch, but Rutgers has some good storylines that helped push them to this level. Houston may also be without a great player in Dejon Jarreau, so this could be closer than expected. I’m hoping not.

Three Basketballs

6. (15) Oral Roberts vs. (7) Florida (7:45 PM ET, TruTV)
7. (13) North Texas vs. (5) Villanova (8:45 PM ET, TNT)
8. (12) Oregon State vs. (4) Oklahoma State (9:40 PM ET, TBS)

Again, brilliant decision-making by Turner; the three least-interesting games of the day are all slammed together at the end when not many people will be watching. Oral Roberts/Florida is the best of the three for the obvious reason of everyone rooting for a 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. North Texas/Villanova has a similar factor to it, but I don’t know that people can rally behind UNT the same way they did Oral Roberts. Critically, Oral Roberts simply plays a much more fun style of basketball. Lastly, I think only fans of both teams will be terribly invested in Oregon State/Oklahoma State. It’s a three-basketball affair because of Cade Cunningham alone; if it had been Virginia or Purdue in this game instead, I would have considered a one-basketball rating.

Monday

Five Basketballs

1. (8) LSU vs. (1) Michigan (7:10 PM ET, CBS)
2. (5) Colorado vs. (4) Florida State (7:45 PM ET, TBS)
3. (7) Oregon vs. (2) Iowa (12:10 PM ET, CBS)

Three bangers. LSU/Michigan is the most important game of Monday because LSU is finally appearing interested on defense at the most critical time of the season. If they’re willing to invest in that for a full 40 minutes, Michigan is in serious trouble. Colorado/Florida State is just your garden-variety excellent game between a pair of very good basketball teams. Oregon/Iowa features two top 15 offenses and, strangely, an Oregon team that will be playing its very first game of the Tournament. All three are must-watches.

Four Basketballs

4. (14) Abilene Christian vs. (11) UCLA (5:15 PM ET, TBS)
5. (13) Ohio vs. (5) Creighton (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
6. (6) USC vs. (3) Kansas (9:40 PM ET, CBS)
7. (10) Maryland vs. (2) Alabama (8:45 PM ET, TNT)
8. (8) Oklahoma vs. (1) Gonzaga (2:40 PM ET, CBS)

Monday just has much more interesting action than Sunday, which isn’t the fault of the Sunday participants at all. It’s just that pretty much all of these games worked out in really good fashion. Abilene/UCLA is fascinating; the Wildcats shot horrendously against Texas but won because they forced 22 turnovers and got a zillion offensive rebounds. Ohio/Creighton is another garden-variety fun fixture between two good offenses that features multiple unique storylines. USC is the highest-rated sub-2 seed in the entire field at #8 on KenPom and is quickly closing in on actual 2-seed Iowa to be the second-highest rated team in their region. Maryland/Alabama would have been a better game with UConn in it, but it’s still pretty good. Lastly, Oklahoma/Gonzaga being the worst game of the day tells you how good this day is. Oklahoma beat four Top 10 teams this year, and Gonzaga has the very best team in the sport, but someone had to be last.

Show Me My NCAA Tournament Opponent: Oregon State

Seven years ago today, Tennessee made some memories that will last a lifetime. The Vols drew the Iowa Hawkeyes in Dayton for the First Four, back when they actually played the NCAA Tournament at different sites in non-pandemic times. For the majority of the game, the Vols lagged behind by anywhere from 2-10 points; it was as if Iowa knew exactly when to stop Vol runs and force their way back out in front.

Down by five with about ten minutes left, Josh Richardson received a pass on the perimeter and drove to the basket. What he did next is etched in my memory forever:

Objectively, what this is is a two-point play to take the game from five to three points. Subjectively, both teams’ attitudes changed from that point forward. Tennessee took the lead and later went to overtime, where they won by 13 points; they used this to springboard a Sweet Sixteen run that came up just shy of the second-ever Elite Eight. I don’t remember any play from either of the two actual NCAA Tournament wins. What I remember is Josh Richardson driving the lane, determined to deliver Tennessee to the field of 64 even if he was the only guy doing it.

In a somewhat similar fashion, the 2020-21 Volunteers have a golden opportunity today to redeem some of the frustration caused by inconsistent play. They’re facing a very vulnerable 12 seed that plays a lot like they do. If Tennessee plays it correctly, they’re going to get the opportunity to deliver a lot of beautiful March moments. As a fan, I’m rooting for the chance to see it.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: KenPom #84 Oregon State (17-12, Pac-12 champion).
  • THE TIME: 4:30 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: TNT.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Spero Dedes (PBP), Brendan Haywood (analyst), and Lauren Shehadi (analyst).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -8.5.

To click ahead to the section of your dreams, go here.

NEXT PAGE: Beaver beaver beaver

Ranking the Round of 64 (and First Four) games by watchability

Do you have a finite amount of time or control over the remote this weekend? If so, this might be the perfect list for you. Or perhaps it won’t be. I can’t predict how you feel!

Game watchability is assigned on a very arbitrary scale, but is essentially a mash-up of how close the game will be + how many points you should see. Close games are fun, but 51-49 games really aren’t. They’re sloppy.

Tiers are on a scale of 1 to 5 basketballs. There are no half-basketballs, and none of this is very serious.

First Four

Five Basketballs

  1. (11) UCLA vs. (11) Michigan State (9:57 PM ET, TBS)
  2. (11) Drake vs. (11) Wichita State (6:27 PM ET, TBS)

I’m being lenient here, but the NCAA Tournament is back for the first time in two years. Why wouldn’t you watch both of these games? As a bonus, UCLA/Michigan State single-handedly decides a pick in my bracket, so I’m really looking forward to that one. Drake/Wichita is also pretty intriguing, particularly now that it appears Drake will be closer to full strength than they’ve been in six weeks.

Three Basketballs

3. (16) Appalachian State vs. (16) Norfolk State (8:40 PM ET, TruTV)
4. (16) Texas Southern vs. (16) Mount St. Mary’s (5:10 PM ET, TruTV)

I do feel bad for these teams. In a normal year, they would’ve gotten timeslots to themselves and a chance to tell the country who they are. Instead, they’re sort of the simultaneous undercard to games people would much rather watch. If you have to pick one of these to see a few minutes of, App/Norfolk is better. Norfolk is a very good deep-shooting team, while App’s defense has been fairly spicy lately. TXSO/MSM is useful because it’s the very first game of the Tournament and you can see how many offensive rebounds both teams get, as they both rank in the top 60 of OREB%.

Friday

Early Afternoon

Five Basketballs

  1. (3) Arkansas vs. (14) Colgate (12:45 PM ET, TruTV)

Colgate is a total mystery; a team that only played five teams this year but dominated almost every single game they participated in. Arkansas is a tad overrated, per the metrics, and could be in trouble against a Colgate team that averages more points per game than any team not named Gonzaga. If nothing else, I fully think both teams are scoring 80+.

Four Basketballs

2. (6) Texas Tech vs. (11) Utah State (1:45 PM ET, TNT)
3. (7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia Tech (12:15 PM ET, CBS)

Texas Tech/Utah State is the most boring 6/11 matchup on the board, which means it’s still a good game. Neither team ranks higher than 180th in eFG%, and both teams have top-25 defenses, meaning this could be a game with <120 combined points. Florida/VA Tech is the first game of the tournament and features a pair of teams that have either looked fantastic or awful offensively depending on which game you’ve watched.

Three Basketballs

4. (1) Illinois vs. (16) Drexel (1:15 PM ET, TBS)

Rare is the 1/16 game I actually think is worth watching, but I could include this one in said group. Drexel is easily the best 16 seed this year, and while I can’t really fathom them beating Illinois, it’s the only 1/16 that I could see being close at halftime. Drexel is an excellent shooting team that ranks top 50 in both 2PT% and 3PT% and plays very, very slowly, which is a really good recipe for keeping things close. Unfortunately, they also don’t force any turnovers and are a middling offensive rebounding squad. Still, the path is there to keep this within ten.

Late Afternoon

Five Basketballs

1. (8) Loyola Chicago vs. (9) Georgia Tech (4 PM ET, TBS)

This still stands even with Georgia Tech’s first or second-best player out in Moses Wright. Loyola is one of the three highest-rated 8 seeds in the last 20 years, and they play an entrancing style of basketball that essentially chokes opponents out slowly for 40 minutes. Alright, I didn’t sell it very well. Anyway, both teams here are very good, and you get to see the most unusual elite basketball player in the sport in Cameron Krutwig.

Three Basketballs

2. (5) Tennessee vs. (12) Oregon State (4:30 PM ET, TNT)
3. (2) Ohio State vs. (15) Oral Roberts (3 PM ET, CBS)

Tennessee/Oregon State is the most boring 5/12 game, which, again, still means it’s somewhat watchable. The Vols do have two likely first-round picks in Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, while Oregon State’s backcourt of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas is also good. That being said, I can almost guarantee there will be a three-minute stretch where neither team scores. Ohio State/Oral Roberts would be higher if ORU were better. Oral Roberts has the leading scorer in basketball in Max Abmas, but they’re atrocious defensively and seem very likely to give up 90+. Worth watching if you like 92-74 final scores.

Two Basketballs

4. (1) Baylor vs. (16) Hartford (3:30 PM ET, TruTV)

Least interesting game of the day.

Early Evening

Five Basketballs

1. (8) North Carolina vs. (9) Wisconsin (7:10 PM ET, CBS)
2. (4) Oklahoma State vs. (13) Liberty (6:25 PM ET, TBS)

That’s right! TWO five-ball games. UNC/Wisconsin features a hot UNC squad and a Wisconsin team that’s in the top 15 on most metrics sites. Will there be many points scored? Not likely. But it’s two very good teams that both could push Baylor hard in the next round. Oklahoma State/Liberty features Cade Cunningham, which is all you need to know.

Four Basketballs

3. (4) Purdue vs. (13) North Texas (7:25 PM ET, TNT)

Normally a low-and-slow game wouldn’t be that intriguing, but I do think this one is. Purdue/UNT feels unlikely to even crack 65 possessions and will more likely be in the 58-62 range, which is a great recipe for a 13-over-4 upset. And everyone likes upsets.

Two Basketballs

4. (2) Houston vs. (15) Cleveland State (7:15 PM ET, TruTV)

Houston is simply far, far better than a Cleveland State team that had a great season. Houston has the best eFG% defense in the nation, blocks 14.5% of twos, and is going to demolish the boards in this one. Houston ranks #2 nationally in OREB%; Cleveland State, #302 in DREB%. It’s a bad recipe.

Late Evening

Five Basketballs

1. (6) San Diego State vs. (11) Syracuse (9:40 PM ET, CBS)
2. (5) Villanova vs. (12) Winthrop (9:57 PM ET, TNT)

Everyone loves a plucky underdog! Those 11 and 12 seeds that come from small conferences to play with the big boys and are…somehow still coached by Jim Boeheim. Every year Syracuse gets in the field as a 9-11 seed, and every year, they pull an upset. I don’t expect this to go any differently. Meanwhile, Winthrop gets a Villanova team without Collin Gillespie, but Villanova still has a lot of firepower and can run with the Eagles if they so choose.

Three Basketballs

3. (7) Clemson vs. (10) Rutgers (9:20 PM ET, TBS)
4. (3) West Virginia vs. (14) Morehead State (9:50 PM ET, TruTV)

Clemson/Rutgers is an awful offensive matchup, but it should be fairly close and it’s quite nice to see Rutgers finally make the NCAA Tournament without it being cancelled. Meanwhile, both Morehead and West Virginia play moderately exciting styles of basketball, which seems pretty likely to result in West Virginia winning by 15 points.

Saturday

Early Afternoon

Five Basketballs

1. (8) LSU vs. (9) St. Bonaventure (1:45 PM ET, TNT)

Could have a ton of points scored in this one, and it’s a coin-flip game. Either team could win, likely by a score of 79-78. Both teams were underseeded, and it seems like either will have at least some amount of a shot to beat Michigan in the next round. Very much worth watching.

Four Basketballs

2. (5) Colorado vs. (12) Georgetown (12:15 PM ET, CBS)

Everyone’s favorite upset pick this year, which actually makes more sense if you remember how much of an advantage Colorado loses when it plays away from home. Colorado’s home court advantage, per KenPom, is the best in all of college basketball. They went 11-1 at home this year. When they’re on the road or at a neutral site, though, this evaporates. They went 11-7 away from home this year, still good but not nearly as dominant. Georgetown’s going to have a very good shot.

Three Basketballs

3. (3) Kansas vs. (14) Eastern Washington (1:15 PM ET, TBS)

Eastern Washington plays a fun brand of basketball and has a uniquely talented center in Tanner Groves. The issue here is more with Kansas, who looks lost offensively from time to time and had their worst offense in Bill Self’s entire tenure this year. A Kansas win doesn’t feel exciting.

Two Basketballs

4. (4) Florida State vs. (13) UNC Greensboro (12:45 PM ET, TruTV)

Isaiah Miller alone should’ve pushed this to three basketballs, but the gap between FSU (the best 4 seed in the field) and UNCG (the worst 13) is simply too large to make this a higher-rated game. A UNCG upset would probably be more surprising than a 15 seed winning, to be honest.

Late Afternoon

Five Basketballs

1. (6) USC vs. (11) Drake (4:30 PM ET, TNT)
2. (5) Creighton vs. (12) UC Santa Barbara (3:30 PM ET, TruTV)

Drake’s got to beat Wichita to get here first, but if they do, it’s an utterly fascinating matchup with the best USC squad since O.J. Mayo was in town. Drake simply is a more interesting athletic match with the Trojans, who are pretty likely to beat either opponent but would face a greater point-for-point battle with Drake. Meanwhile, UCSB is the most enjoyable 12-seed this year and does an excellent job of doing all the little things that lead to upsets.

Two Basketballs

3. (2) Alabama vs. (15) Iona (4 PM ET, TBS)

Yes, a lot of points are going to be scored in this game. Iona doesn’t play as fast as they used to, though, and they commit a ton of turnovers. The Rick Pitino storyline is obviously hilarious, but if you don’t like watching top 10 teams beat overwhelmed opponents by 20 points in December, why would you now?

One Basketball

4. (1) Michigan vs. (16) Mount St. Mary’s or Texas Southern (3 PM ET, CBS)

The two worst 16 seeds in the field versus a 1 seed missing its best shooter. Pass.

Early Evening

Five Basketballs

1. (4) Virginia vs. (13) Ohio (7:15 PM ET, TruTV)
2. (7) Connecticut vs. (10) Maryland (7:10 PM ET, CBS)

How could you not be utterly fascinated by the Virginia Quarantine storyline? No one knows which UVA players will be available for Saturday’s game yet, and that’s before you get into Ohio being a fairly strong 13 seed who plays the right brand of basketball to pull an upset. Meanwhile, there’s also a UConn team that’s in the top 15-20 of every metric but somehow got a 7 seed.

Four Basketballs

3. (2) Iowa vs. (15) Grand Canyon (6:25 PM ET, TBS)
4. (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Missouri (7:25 PM ET, TNT)

Grand Canyon doesn’t exactly have a wonderful offense (it’s the 10th-worst in the field), but the question for the entire season has been this: can Iowa’s defense figure it out in time to help their offense out? The Hawkeye defense has climbed all the way to 50th after being at 130th on February 7th. That’s terrific; I’m also quite skeptical. Since the Ohio State loss on February 4, opponents have shot just 32.4% from downtown despite getting off an astounding 24.1 three-point attempts per game. Iowa doesn’t guard these particularly fiercely; a Grand Canyon team that makes 55.4% of their twos and will be taking 40% or more of their shots from deep could reasonably exploit this. Still a likely 10-14 point win for Iowa.

Oklahoma/Missouri was more intriguing before a key Oklahoma player was ruled out, but it’s still worth keeping track of.

Late Evening

Five Basketballs

1. (6) BYU vs. (11) UCLA (9:40 PM ET, CBS)
2. (3) Texas vs. (14) Abilene Christian (9:50 PM ET, TruTV)

UCLA over BYU is the most likely 11-over-6 upset…but it requires UCLA to actually win in the First Four, which won’t be easy. That’s why I haven’t completed my bracket yet, as a Sweet Sixteen spot quite literally depends on that outcome. Texas/Abilene Christian is the most must-watch 3/14 game since West Virginia/Stephen F. Austin, simply because no 3/14 game has had this level of a turnover delta since. Texas averages a -2.3 turnover margin per 100 possessions; Abilene Christian is the second-best in all of basketball at +7.3. Averaged out to a 70-possession game, that’s almost seven extra possessions for Abilene. Can Texas make up for that? I’m excited to find out.

Three Basketballs

3. (7) Oregon vs. (10) VCU (9:57 PM ET, TNT)

I’m not sure I have a single thought either way on this game. It’s like the exact picture I have in my head of “replacement-level Round of 64 game.”

One Basketball

4. (1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Norfolk State or Appalachian State (9:20 PM ET, TBS)

I have Gonzaga as roughly a 28-29 point favorite in this game, regardless of who they play.

The best (and worst) value picks for the 2021 NCAA Tournament

No fancy intro here – just big, dumb stats stuff.

The values below are based off of the traditional bracket scoring of 1 point per Round of 64 win, 2 per Round of 32, 4 per Sweet Sixteen, 8 per Elite Eight, 16 per Final Four, and 32 for getting the champion right.

Round of 64

As a reminder, picks in this round are just one team against another; if one team is a great value pick, their opponent is a bad one. Pretty simple.

Best Values

(9) St. Bonaventure over (8) LSU (50.1% to advance/31.9% ESPN picks/+.182 expected points added). Only 31.9% of the public have picked the Bonnies, but St. Bonaventure is the KenPom favorite and, in my combined metrics, a 50.1% likely winner. Is this a safe pick? No, but it could be a huge first-round swing pick.

(11) Utah State over (6) Texas Tech (39.7% to advance/22% ESPN/+.177 EPA).

(13) North Texas over (4) Purdue (28.6% to advance/11% ESPN/+.176 EPA).

(10) Rutgers over (7) Clemson (53.6% to advance/39.3% ESPN/.143 EPA). I assume that this is some sort of weird college football residual affection for Clemson?

Worthy Moon Shots

(14) Eastern Washington over (3) Kansas (23.5% to advance/7.1% ESPN/+.164 EPA). No team in this bracket has less value than Kansas, to be honest, though I see this being more of an issue in the Round of 32 than here.

(14) Abilene Christian over (3) Texas (23.2% to advance/7.3% ESPN/+.159 EPA).

(13) Liberty over (4) Oklahoma State (26.1% to advance/14% ESPN/+.121 EPA).

(14) Colgate over (3) Arkansas (25.3% to advance/13.9% ESPN/+.114 EPA).

Round of 32

Best Values

(6) USC over either (3) Kansas or (14) Eastern Washington (44.6% to advance/24.9% ESPN/+.394 EPA). USC is well-rated in the metrics, would be a neutral-court favorite over both teams, and both were true before Kansas announced a starter would be out for at least the first weekend. As mentioned above, Kansas may be the single-worst value pick in this Tournament.

(6) BYU to the Sweet Sixteen (34.8% to advance/18.9% ESPN/+.318 EPA). I really do not like this pick, for the record. BYU is going to be very vulnerable in the first round. This is more of an anti-Texas pick, which will be explained later.

(8) Loyola Chicago over (1) Illinois (21.3% to advance/6.5% ESPN/+.296 EPA). Explained yesterday.

Teams to Avoid

(3) Kansas (36.8% to advance/68.2% ESPN/-.628 EPA). If you add Jalen Wilson back to these projections, Kansas is still the lowest-value pick of the first two rounds. They haven’t gotten above 19th in KenPom since Tennessee blew them out in late January, and the last time they actually played like a 3 seed (AKA, being ranked 9th-12th in KenPom) was January 9.

(3) Texas (41.9% to advance/70% ESPN/-.562 EPA). Texas has a really tough Round of 64 matchup and would either face BYU or a very good 11 seed in the next round. The Big 12 wasn’t quite as good this year as it has been the last several, and I think in general, the league’s being overvalued this March.

(4) Oklahoma State (38.2% to advance/59.4% ESPN/-.424 EPA). I promise this wasn’t all that intentional, but again, another Big 12 team to avoid. Oklahoma State never got higher than 30th in KenPom, which is the range for 8 seeds traditionally.

Sweet Sixteen

Best Values

This round isn’t quite as ripe as the others, to be honest. This is more of a round to avoid certain teams than to go all-in on some.

(6) USC (18.6% to advance/7.6% ESPN/+.44 EPA). Not a great value, to be honest, but it’s #1.

(8) Loyola Chicago (13% to advance/3% ESPN/+.389 EPA). 

(7) Connecticut (15.8% to advance/6.2% ESPN/+.384 EPA). I actually like this one, for what it’s worth.

(6) BYU (15.6% to advance/6.4% ESPN/+.367 EPA).

Teams to Avoid

(1) Baylor (50% to advance/70.1% ESPN/-.806 EPA). Baylor has to go through a really good 8/9 seed combo and either Purdue or Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen. Let me put it in perspective: Gonzaga actually does have 70% odds to advance. Baylor does not.

(1) Michigan (44% to advance/63.7% ESPN/-.79 EPA). This hurts, but no Livers is a real killer. If you haven’t watched them, Livers would pretty easily be the best player on Tennessee, for example.

(1) Illinois (51.1% to advance/69.1% ESPN/-.719 EPA). 

(3) Kansas (12.7% to advance/28.3% ESPN/-.626 EPA).

This team is actually lower than some others, but they required a shoutout: (2) Ohio State (43.7% to advance/57.6% ESPN/-.554 EPA). 

As well as this one: (2) Alabama (35.5% to advance/47.1% ESPN/-.462 EPA).

Elite Eight

Best Values

(2) Houston (31.3% to advance/15.3% ESPN/+1.28 EPA). This is our first >1 point value add of the Tournament and one of just four the entire way through. Two of the other three? Also Houston. I cannot believe the Cougars can be had at this “price,” if you will; they were in KenPom’s top 7 for basically the entire season and never wavered. There isn’t a realistic reason for Illinois to be receiving 53.9% of Final Four picks from this region when Houston would only be a one-point underdog on a neutral court.

(2) Iowa (20.9% to advance/14% ESPN/+.552 EPA). Iowa is up here simply because everyone is taking Gonzaga to the Final Four and further. Gonzaga has received an astounding 67.2% of ESPN user picks in this region, a full 13% higher than any other team in the field. I’m taking Gonzaga there myself, but there is real value in giving Iowa a shot if you’re in a bracket group of, say, 50+ people.

Teams to Avoid

(1) Illinois (31.7% to advance/53.9% ESPN/-1.773 EPA). Because Illinois has gotten hot at the right time, they’ve received the second-highest percentage of Final Four picks in the field. This is a lot for a team that has a negative turnover margin, ranks 235th in FT%, and has been the serious beneficiary of an opponent cold streak from three over their seven-game win streak (expected 3PT% 35.7%; actual, 29.7%). Illinois is a wonderful team, but they aren’t a lock to even get to the Sweet Sixteen given that they may be playing the ninth-ranked team in KenPom in the Round of 32.

(1) Baylor (33.6% to advance/50.1% ESPN/-1.32 EPA). Baylor’s struggles as of recent are probably overblown, but they kind of quietly received a real bummer of a draw. In the Round of 32, the Bears either have to face KenPom’s #10 team (Wisconsin) or the #28 team (North Carolina) that’s risen 14 spots in the last three weeks. The Sweet Sixteen opponent is likely either Purdue (#13 KenPom) or Villanova (#12). Lastly, they’d likely have to get past #7 Ohio State to make the Final Four. That’s as many as three Top 12 opponents in four games, which is a huge ask for pretty much any team. It’s like having to beat a 3 seed three straight times despite playing an 8, a 5, and a 2.

(1) Michigan (28.3% to advance/42% ESPN/-1.093 EPA). This is entirely based on the Livers injury. If he were available, Michigan would actually be the best value pick of any 1 seed.

(3) Texas (7.8% to advance/15.1% ESPN/-.583 EPA). Lowest value pick of any non-1 seed.

Final Four

Best Values

(2) Houston (19% to advance/7% ESPN/+1.919 EPA). The second-highest value by any team in any round.

(2) Iowa (13.1% to advance/7.6% ESPN+.879 EPA).

Teams to Avoid

(1) Illinois (19.8% to advance/30.6% ESPN/-1.722 EPA). 

(1) Baylor (19.4% to advance/29.6% ESPN/-1.629 EPA).

Champions

Best Values

(2) Houston (9.5% to win/2.5% ESPN/+2.229 EPA).

(2) Iowa (7.9% to win/3.4% ESPN/+1.426 EPA).

Way down the board, but still worthy of consideration in, say, 150+ person bracket groups: (2) Ohio State (4.7% to win/3.4% ESPN/+0.41 EPA).

Teams to Avoid

(1) Illinois (10.2% to win/14.9% ESPN/-1.516 EPA). Perhaps call this the anti-hot hand.

(1) Gonzaga (32.6% to win/37% ESPN/-1.415 EPA). Gonzaga has the best chance to win the NCAA Tournament of any team since 2000-01 Duke, and truth be told, they are a perfectly fine pick. If you’re in a 100-person bracket group, on average, 37 people will pick Gonzaga. If you’re one of those 37, you have to nail the earlier rounds to scratch out an advantage. That’s why Gonzaga is both the smartest pick in the field and one of the worst.

Thanks for tagging along! One final ranking is below.

Teams with the most total added points value in the field:

  1. Houston +5.514 expected points added
  2. Iowa +2.588
  3. Loyola Chicago +1.702
  4. USC +1.5
  5. Wisconsin +1.482

Teams with the lowest added points values:

  1. Illinois -6.136
  2. Baylor -4.741
  3. Gonzaga -3.339
  4. Michigan -3.112
  5. Kansas -2.656