Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Bracket - Top 10 KenPom in Offense and Defense - And That Could be a Marquette Title

Here is the quick reference of brackets with the links to this and each of the other brackets. Note, Michigan State has fallen off this list of 10 with their offense dropping to 56th in the nation, but never rule out Tom Izzo!

Next Round points out above that every national champion this century has had one of the top 40 offenses AND a top 25 defense. In other words, if you aren't elite both scoring and stopping scoring, you don't win the title. The only additional note I would make ...

The pre-conference play calculations are a better indicator of likely performance in March Madness, during which team do not play conference opponents at least until the Sweet 16 if at all. For example, on December 8 14 teams met the criteria of a top 40 offense and a top 25 defense.

Among those 14 we rank them by their worse side of the court. So Purdue had the 4th best offense, and the 8th best defense, so they had the best elite balance because their "worse" ranking as for the 8th best defense.

Marquette had the 9th best offense and 10th best defense, so they were the second best on this criteria with the 10th best defense, and BYU next with the 12th best defense.

Arizona had a better defense than any of those four with the 5th best defense, but they rank slightly worse because their worse unit was a 13th ranked offense, etc.

Rk   Non-Conf 12/8    Worse of Off or Def    Conf      AdjO    Off     AdjD    Def
2Purdue 18B10121.3491.78
5Marquette 210BE118.7992.410
6BYU 612B12118.61092.712
4Arizona 213P12118.41390.85
3Connecticut 116BE121.7393.416
8Creighton 316BE117.71692.29
10Gonzaga 519WCC118.51294.319
1Houston 119B12116.61985.71
12Wisconsin 522B10118.31494.922
11Kansas 426B121152691.57
14Illinois 329B10114.62992.511
9Tennessee 232SEC114.23289.82
17Auburn 433SEC114.13393.114

So you are telling me Marquette has a chance ...

For the first time in my life I travel to the first game of the tournament honestly believing Marquette could win the national title. Obviously we have the biggest downside in the country as well since Marquette is the only team in the nation with two projected NBA players who are also the two best players on the injured list - so this this assumes Oso Ighodaro and Tyler Kolek are mostly back this week and back to 100% by the Sweet 16.

But if so ...

The most reliable predictor of NCAA champions was covered well in February by The Next Round (see first image). No team has ever won the national championship without an elite offense (top 40) and defense (top 25) in the www.kenpom.com ratings. 

The only two teams in the country that were even better than that in non-conference play - in the TOP 10 in both AdjO and AdjD this season - are Marquette and Purdue. That points to the two of them meeting in a Final 4 game. Purdue won the match-up this season when the two played on a late offensive rebound by Zach Edey to win 78-75. That was in a tournament with both teams playing a third straight day - which was a huge advantage for the huge Eddy and disadvantage for Marquette relying on speed.  If Marquette gets to that game in the Final 4 then Oso and Tyler will have definitely been 100%, and that spells advantage Marquette and a great shot at the win that game and the title.

Maybe Tom Izzo is such a great coach that he can take the 57th best offense to the title with six wins like his 53-49 win over Northwestern in Michigan State's final home game of the year. After giving up more than 100 points in three of their last 6 games to fall to the 112th best defense in the national Alabama can win six games 120-110 to take the title and end the streak. But so far for more than two decades no team has won the title with an offense nearly as bad as Michigan State or a defense nearly as bad as Alabama's.

As the Next Round pointed out, that means unless history is made one of the 10 teams in the first graph below will be the national champ.

If I had been sent to purgatory for the past six months - meaning the ultimate punishment of not watching or seeing any news on college basketball all season - and was then told I could have one piece of evidence before filling in my bracket, I would ask to see the kenpom offensive and defensive ratings in NON-CONFERENCE games - after the last major non-conference each team faces - and after reading them I would fill in the bracket below with Marquette as national champion.

The reason a team's offensive and defensive KenPom ratings in NON-CONFERENCE games are so much more important is that you rarely face a conference opponent in March Madness - and this is a much better measure of how well you are likely to play against a team who has not played your current players six or eight times in the last few years to know all your passing lanes and tendencies by heart.

We've all seen the incredible no look passes from Oso, Tyler and Kam that are easy buckets in non-conference games, but often picked off by a Big East opponent who has seen the same pass between the same two players a dozen times before.

MU Non-Conference AdjO and AdjD Close to UConn 2023

Last year UConn appeared to have the top defense in the country through their 11-0 non-conference start, and at that point you would have looked at their five straight elite wins (Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Florida) and assumed they'd be national champions.  Not only did they have the 3rd best offense in the country - but in those five games they allowed an average of only 59 points per game a- 19 points per game lower than the 78 points per game those teams averaged scoring.

During Big East play opponents knew where to find some holes in the UConn defense and scored enough that by the end of the conference season UConn's defense had dropped all the way out of the top 20 for the season. Going back to play non-Big East foes who did not know their defense as well, and they smothered them again to win all tournament games by double digits and take the title as you would have assumed would happen if all you'd seen was their non-conference games.

Marquette this year is obviously not at the same level UConn was last year, BUT the same basic phenomena played out this year. The cropped www.kenpom.com in the second image shows Marquette's offensive and defense ratings having played one more major opponent than UConn had last year (Illinois, UCLA, Kansas, Purdue, Wisconsin and Texas) and Marquette was not just in the top 40 and 25 like the team below - but was in the top 10 on both offense and defense before starting to play Big East foes.

In fact, Marquette might have been in the top 5 in offense and defense if Shaka had not let up against Notre Dame and Texas in back-to-back games. MU led 23-4 against Notre Dame early, and against Texas led 81-49 before putting walk-ons in the game for a number of possessions during which Texas pressed with regulars to make the final look respectable and hurt MU's kenpom ratings.

100% Healthy MU + No Opposing Physical 7-Footers = True Shot at Title

Based on that, if Tyler and Oso are back to 100% by at least the Sweet 16, unless they go up against the one match-up problem - a big physical 7-footer - Marquette has a true potential path to nothing short of a national title. Yes, that may mean someone else needs to knock off UConn, Purdue and maybe even Kentucky before Marquette has to play them, but if MU doesn't face a giant 7-footer, the team could have the rare combo of a top 10 offense AND defense in this tournament that has been the key ingredient to all national champions this century.

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