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March 20, 2008
Profiling Success
What Does a Sweet 16 Team Look Like?

by Peter Bean

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What does a Sweet 16 team look like statistically? What about a Final Four team?

The college basketball landscape, with its more than 300 teams, sub-20-foot three-point line and scholarship limitations, allows for a wide range of playing styles. As we all sit down to fill out our brackets, it's worth asking if the teams who advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond share anything in common statistically.

To answer that question, I went through each of the past three NCAA tournaments, charting all 48 teams who advanced to the Sweet 16 and the 12 who made the Final Four. What follows is a breakdown of how those teams performed in each of Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics. Teams are charted in two ways: first, by the average rank of a Sweet 16 (or Final 4) team in each category, and second, by the percentage of Sweet 16 (or Final 4) teams who finished in the Top 60 of each category.

We'll start with the Sweet 16 profiles. The numbers below indicate the average offensive and defensive rankings in various categories for teams that reach the Sweet 16, as well as the percentage of Sweet 16 teams to appear in the top 60 in that category in a given year:

              Offense              Defense
           Rank  %Top 60        Rank  %Top 60    
AjEff       19      96           30      92
eFG%        54      67           79      52
2P FG%      68      56           90      46
TO%         79      52          137      27
3P FG%      80      42           96      42
OR%        102      48          117      33
FTR        123      31           96      48
A/FGM      124      31          114      35

Naturally, the all-encompassing Adjusted Efficiency is the strongest indicator of team strength. The average Sweet 16 team is ranked 19th in offensive efficiency, with all but two of the 48 Sweet 16 participants ranking in the Top 60 offensively. Lesson one is both the obvious and most important: if a team hasn't performed well by KP's offensive efficiency metric, don't get cute with them in your bracket.

It's interesting that the numbers slip a bit on the defensive side, with the average Sweet 16 team ranking 30th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Though the vast majority of Sweet 16 teams still finished in the Top 60, the data suggests slightly more wiggle room for weaker defensive squads.

Looking at 2008: Data from the past three tournaments suggests teams outside the Top 60 in adjusted efficiency are longshots to make the Sweet 16. Who does that implicate as a risky pick this year? The following at-large invitees will be trying to buck the odds:

Offensive Efficiency Risks

[6] Oklahoma (73rd)
[12] Villanova (74)
[11] Kentucky (95)
[8] BYU (95)

Defensive Efficiency Risks

[5] Notre Dame (61st)
[5] Drake (67)
[7] Miami (72)
[5] Vanderbilt (77)
[11] Baylor (88)
[11] St. Joseph's (99)
[9] Oregon (125)

Potential Sleepers (OE/DE)

[5] Clemson (24 / 14)
[6] Marquette (38 / 6)
[7] West Virginia (27 / 29)
[8] Indiana (21 / 31)
[10] Arizona (12 / 48)

Looking forward to the Final Four, here is the data from the past three NCAA tournaments:

              Offense              Defense
           Rank  %Top 60        Rank  %Top 60    
AjEff       15     100           11     100
eFG%        26      92           41      75
2P FG%      21     100           41      75
TO%        112      25          144      25
3P FG%      84      42          103      33
OR%         77      58           66      58
FTR        123      42           61      67
A/FGM      102      33          100      33

Though teams without elite defensive profiles can get through two rounds of the tournament, by the final weekend, the remaining teams are all tremendous defensive ones.

It's extremely interesting to note how highly recent Final Four participants have ranked in two-point field goal percentage, both on offense and defense. Each of the past 12 Final Four participants has ranked in the Top 60 offensively, with an average rank of 21, while nine of 12 have finished in the Top 60 defensively, with an average rank of 41.

Looking at 2008: The two-point field goal percentage turns out to be an eye-opener, as a host of teams seeded five or higher rank outside the Top 60 in offensive two-point field goal percentage:

Offensive 2PT FG Risks

[5] Michigan State (64th)
[1] North Carolina (67)
[5] Drake (76)
[5] Vanderbilt (85)
[4] Connecticut (115)
[5] Clemson (116)
[2] Texas (161)
[5] Notre Dame (171)
[3] Stanford (180)

On defense, just three of the last 12 Final Four participants have finished outside the Top 60 in two-point field goal defense: 2005 Michigan State (102nd), 2007 Florida (90th) and 2007 UCLA (74th). The following teams seeded fifth or better could be risky picks for a trip to San Antonio:

Defensive 2PT FG Risks

[1] UCLA (103rd)
[1] North Carolina (112)
[2] Duke (114)
[4] Pittsburgh (123)
[5] Vanderbilt (143)
[5] Clemson (200)
[5] Drake (208)
[2] Tennessee (260)

Peter Bean is editor of BurntOrangeNation.com and manager of the collegiate network at Sports Blogs Nation. He can be reached here.

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Bracket Breakdown (03/19)
Next Article >>
Game Reax (03/20)

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