CBB Contender Series 5.0

Welcome to the place where we go beyond traditional ranking systems. Sure, you can look at the AP top-25 or the NCAA’s NET rankings or simply Kenpom’s top-10. We’re diving deeper, acknowledging that the human eye can be misleading, and that data is the best way to approach predicting the madness come March. Don’t just take my word here for it, take a look here where I break down exactly what the data is telling me. I will be defining teams as “vulnerable” or “impenetrable” or simply “flyers”, exactly what backs up my logic for these can also found in the first article. For now, a synopsis: Vulnerable teams are the statistical archetype of a team that is likely to be upset the first weekend. Impenetrable teams are the antithesis of that, fitting the archetype of teams who almost never miss the Sweet 16. Finally the flyers, teams that don’t fit those narrow barometers but find themselves in or around the top-10. So, every week we’ll take a look at Kenpom’s 10 most efficient teams and define them, look at their week (or season if they’re new) and assess where they truly stand in the Contender vs Pretender debate. To see my initial breakdown of these teams refer to v-1, the following will be an update on the week each team had if they were also in the top-10 last week. *—–* indicates change in archetype.

  1. Houston (19-2) Off (7) Def (3) – IMPENETRABLE
    • Houston finally looked vulnerable this past week with a loss at home to Temple, ugly. However, the data still tells us this team is the best in the Country and they bounced back with a road win over UCF who happens to be the 3rd best team in the American Conference. Sometimes the offense goes quiet for Houston, but what usually makes them able to score is their offensive rebounding. Temple was able to keep them off the glass and muck up the game. It’s a very difficult task to pull off but you have to control the glass against this team to have a chance, and you have to be a team a tough ass dudes because Houston is relentless. The road demolition of UCF to bounce back proved just how great they can be, and they show up in the biggest moments and come ready for a fight. Houston should be the odds-on favorite to win this thing this year, as the group behind them is rocky at best. It’s worth noting again, teams who are top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency entering the tournament are historically dominant…the data doesn’t lie.
  2. Tennessee (17-3) Off (40) Def (1) – FLYER
    • Tennessee has continued to beat up on the middle and bottom parts of the SEC, but when push has come to shove they’ve struggled against the better competition this year. It’s a weird conundrum for this group, as they’ve now gone back to Zakai Zeigler in the starting lineup and moved the big man Plavsic to the bench. Either way this team will defend at an elite level, they are just trying to figure out how to generate consistent offensive play as they’re teetering on entering the vulnerable territory due to the inefficiency on that end. There is still a lot of love for the Vols around the Country, but man am I getting worried about this group. Maybe it’s short sighted, but the data is screaming at us. Sure, against bad teams they are able to suffocate and dominate, but in the tournament to win 4 straight against elite teams, I’m not convinced yet. Maybe the recent lineup changes can make a difference. Tonight they welcome fellow top-10 team Texas with a chance to change my mind a little.
  3. UCLA (17-4) Off (20) Def (5) – *FLYER*
    • Back-to-back losses for the Bruins have dropped them from the Impenetrable category to Flyer territory as they have been shut down on the offensive end. Now, I had in weeks past been contributing this to missing Amari Bailey, but Bailey was back for the 2nd loss at USC so things are starting to get concerning on that end. Ultimately, I think they ran into the 2 best teams in the Pac-12, besides themselves, on the road and lost two dog fights, nothing to be overly concerned about. This is one of the most experienced teams in the Country, with several guys on the team who went on that Final 4 run a couple of years ago, and after a Sweet 16 loss last year they have to be keying in on that March run. UCLA in my mind is right behind Houston and Alabama as the best bets right now, and the data agrees.
  4. Alabama (18-2) Off (15) Def (4) – IMPENETRABLE
    • Bama is right there with UCLA as teams turning it on at the exact right time, as they are now rolling through the SEC and look like a true contender. Nate Oates finally has this team playing connected defensively and of course playing that fast wide open offense he is known for. Auburn and Tennessee are still down the road but at this point Bama is the clear favorite in the SEC. and have I mentioned Brandon Miller? He might be the best player in the Country and nobody is really discussing it. All the talk of the big men, meanwhile Brandon miller is averaging 20 ppg shooting 46% from 3, absolutely ridiculous. Pairing him with Mark Sears who was good enough to send Jahvon Quinerly to the bench makes the Tide incredibly dangerous. Oh and they went on the road and beat Houston. Mic drop.
  5. Purdue (20-1) Off (4) Def (18) – FLYER
    • It’s a historically great season happening in West Lafayette right now as the Boilers just keep racking up Big Ten wins, including a 5-0 record on the road now in Conference. The unicorn of Zach Edey surrounded by smart talented 3-star kids has proven to be too much to handle for all of these decorated teams Purdue has knocked off. Crazy what Matt Painter is doing, as he has to be the front-runner today for COY. Plus we have seen that defensive number climb climb climb and now they are knocking on the door of that elusive top-15. It could be next week when we see the Boilers enter into the Impenetrable category, but as it stands they are the best looking Flyer on the board. Zach Edey looks poised to absolutely dominate March, and is the frontrunner for NPOY. Clearly a 1 seed at this point, this is by far the programs best looking chance to finally get Matt Painter over the hump and into the Final Four for the first time. Data says watch the defense, but man Edey is a problem.
  6. Uconn (16-6) Off (11) Def (14) – IMPENETREBLE
    • Alarm bells are going off all around this program as Uconn has lost 6 out of 8 and are in complete freefall. Somehow the data still says Impenetrable, but I can’t imagine if they keep playing like this that is going to remain. Obviously, the data is not reactionary and takes into account the complete season, but who Uconn is today seems to be quite different from the Uconn we saw early in the season who started 14-0 and was killing everyone in their path. There was a time many thought this was the best team in the Country, but man has the quality of play fallen off. Defensively they are playing with much less intensity, see the 82 points they allowed Xavier to have at home, and offensively teams have found out you can leave Andre Jackson wide open and he’ll throw up brick after brick. They get DePaul and Georgetown next to get right, but my confidence in these Huskies sure has diminished.  
  7. Saint Mary’s (17-4) Off (36) Def (6) – *FLYER*
    • An improvement for the Gaels since we last met as the offense has been able to put up some points in their victories over Pepperdine and Santa Clara, not exactly a murderers row but nonetheless they keep playing winning basketball. We spoke extensively last week about what Randy Bennett has accomplished during his historic career at Saint Mary’s but he’s trying this year to de-throne the king in Gonzaga, two matchups with them remain with the first being next weekend at home. They need to knock Gonzaga off to improve their resume for March, as this wide open field appears to be Bennett’s best shot at getting this program deep into the tournament. They’ve only made it out of the first weekend once (2010) under Bennett, but they’ve also never ended the season top-10 in overall efficiency. Could this be the group?
  8. Marquette (16-5) Off (1) Def (68) – VULNERABLE
    • The only newcomer of the week is Shaka Smart’s Marquette Golden Eagles. As you would expect from a Shaka led team Marquette is playing fast, wide open and aggressive which has landed them some big time wins and now puts them as the top overall offense in the Country. As much as they impress offensively, the questions come on the defensive end as 68th puts them in the Vulnerable category. I have rambled on and on about the trouble that unbalanced teams face in March, but Marquette looks like the perfect team to enter March and suffer a 1st round upset. You see it year after year with teams who are elite offensively but don’t compete defensively. They will let a lesser opponent get hot and get some confidence which will result in their demise. See Ohio St against Oral Roberts a year ago. I love Shaka, and I love when teams play fast and free flowing, but you have to match that energy on the other end of the floor. So far, the Golden Eagles haven’t found that magic combo like an Alabama for example. If that remains the case I will absolutely be avoiding them come bracket season.
  9. Texas (17-3) Off (12) Def (27) – FLYER
    • The Longhorn appear to have righted the ship after the tumultuous few weeks that followed Chris Beard’s exit from the program. The defense has taken a hit but they still are winning games in an incredibly difficult Big 12. Offensively they look a little more freed up as Marcus Carr and Timmy Allen have really been playing well the last few weeks as the leaders of the offense. Frankly, they have so much offensive talent they absolutely should be one of the toughest teams to slow down in the country, as they have playmakers like Tyrese Hunter and Sir’Jabari Rice as well at the Guard spot and even Dylan Disu and Christian Bishop in the front court. It is a loaded roster that was a pre-season favorite for a reason. All they pressure has been vaulted onto interim HC Rodney Terry. Terry was previously a HC at UTEP and Fresno St, so he’s experienced and has proven to be a good leader as he’s kept this team from free falling after losing it’s HC. A trip to Tennessee this weekend presents a big test for how resilient this group is.
  10. Kansas (16-4) Off (25) Def (16) – *FLYER*
    • Once the obvious top overall seed in bracket projections the Jayhawks have now entered a bit of a free-fall dropping 3 straight Big 12 games in pretty convincing fashion. The small ball lineup that we have warned about has been showing its limitations as teams have gone to the paint successfully with regularity and they are really struggling to win the battle of the boards. It is difficult defensively with no shot blocking prescence and even more so when you routinely give up offensive rebounds when you do force a miss. Not to mention Jalen Wilson has been the only reliable offensive player for them, as he has had to shoulder the scoring load scoring 38/30/23 in those 3 losses. Somehow they need to get back to team rebounding and find a way to get other people going offensively or else they will fall out of this top-10. The dangerous thing is up next is trip to a desperate and improving Kentucky team who is looking for a signature win to get them on the right side of the bubble. I smell loss 4 in a row coming.

Dropped: Arizona (15)

3 thoughts on “CBB Contender Series 5.0

  1. These Alabama and Tennessee write-ups are just *chef’s kiss* after what transpired this weekend . At this point, it’s ludicrous to put Tennessee on the 3 line—you’ve gone past reasonable dissent right into “stubborn contrarian who ignores evidence.” I mean, good grief, the Vols are #1 in KenPom and right up in that vicinity in pretty much every other ranking system (NET, Torvik, etc). The stats aren’t telling the story you think they’re telling.

    Also, Tennessee lost at Arizona by 5 without one of their best players (JJJ), destroyed Kansas by (I think) 14, and just beat the brakes off of a really good Texas team while scoring 80+ points. You need to check your personal bias against objective reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt – appreciate the feedback, love getting into the weeds of these things. First, I want to distinguish between this contender series and the bracketology. I am not using any of these discussions to evaluate and seed teams, the contender series is my attempt at tracking and predicting how teams will fare in March, not where they should be seeded.

      In the bracketology I am doing my best to apply what the committee has publicly said they do to determine seeding and make a bracket based on if the season ended today. They have said a teams ranking in systems like the NET/Kenpom and the like do not factor much into the seeding. Most important categories are the strength of Quadrant wins and losses and strength of schedule. This article does a good job at breaking down what they “claim” is most important. https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/bracketology-explaining-the-team-sheets-the-selection-committee-uses-to-compare-ncaa-tournament-resumes/

      Now, for the Tennessee debate. I certainly recognize I’m on a bit of an island when it comes to where the Vols should be seeded, but again I’m trying to predict what the committee would do if the season ended today. Here are the relevant facts. Tennessee has only 4 Q1 wins, less than all of the teams I have ahead of them, except Houston who also has 4. Plus Tennessee has 2 Q2 losses, which none of the teams above them can say. They also have the 2nd worst SOS in my current top-16. Frankly, I think those that have them on the 1 line are relying far too much on ranking systems and not truly evaluating teams resume’s as they stand today. Tennessee needs to accumulate more Q1/Q2 wins in my opinion to have the resume to stack up with the teams above them. That does not mean my eyeballs tell me that Tennessee is worse than all of those teams, but this is a resume game. As an example from last year, Houston was 4th overall Kenpom, top-11 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and was a 5-seed. Ranking systems are fine, but the committee generally does not use them to seed teams. The good news is we get the Committee’s top-16 teams Feb 11th so we will see what things look like from their perspective soon.


      • Appreciate the reply! And thanks for showing your work, so to speak. 🙂 I didn’t necessarily think you were winging it with your seeding, but as you said, you’re definitely on an island since I think most people would balk at having Tennessee any lower than fifth overall.

        We’ll see how it shakes out, especially given that Tennessee and Alabama have a forthcoming matchup. I’ll say that I did not expect Alabama to implode so spectacularly against such a mediocre team on Saturday, but I suppose road games are always tough.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s