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College Basketball

How to Pick a Team to Win Your March Madness Bracket (if You Haven't, Already)

Rick Pitino demonstrates his elaborate mating ritual

It’s Wednesday, and you’ve erased your bracket multiple times.

You’re struggling, because you need to pick a winner soon, you don’t know whether or not to buy into all of the Michigan State hype, and that billion dollars isn’t going to win itself.

You just need to find the team that fits your personality.

Luckily, we’re here for you. Using Ken Pomeroy’s Four Factors, as well as other differentiators like team height, experience, and overall pace, we’ve done some back-of-the-napkin calculations to help you pick your NCAA tourney champion.

If you value strong leadership…

Image (1) Doug-McDermott-594x487.jpg for post 255343

Do you root for the guys who have stuck it out in college? Are you a college basketball fan that hates the one-and-done rule? Well, the numbers may be dwindling, but a few teams fit your preferences.

The Creighton Blue Jays: If it’s a veteran group that also happens to be really good at shooting the ball and carving teams up with lethal offense, then Creighton is your team.  You probably know about Doug McDermott, since Sports Illustrated recreated the Larry Bird cover, and he has scored 3,105 points in his college career. He plays with three other senior starters in Jahenns Manigat, eighth-year man Grant Gibbs, and Ethan Wragge. The nine-man rotation is all seniors and juniors. Oh, and Creighton ranks 1st in the country in Effective Field Goal Percentage, thanks in large part to McDermott, though everyone in the starting lineup hits 40% or better from deep.

The Saint Louis Billikens and the Ohio State Buckeyes: If defense is more your thing, then you can meet Saint Louis, and also go all-in on Aaron Craft and the rest of the Buckeyes. Both of these teams are inconsistent on offense, but make opponents earn every point. Furthermore they are in the top 40 in turnover rate on defense, and opponent field goal percentage.

The Florida Gators: If you want an all-around title contender among the top sides, and still want the senior influence, then go for the Gators. Scottie Wilbekin won SEC Player of the Year, Casey Prather came on with a breakout senior year and Patric Young seems like he has been around forever.

The Massachusetts Minutemen: You like the old guys, so we can assume you like some tradition. Can I interest you in also liking the RPI? Massachusetts is led by 5’9″ Chaz Williams, and racked up results that impressed the RPI, going 13-4 in close games decided by 6 points or less. They don’t stand out in anything statistically (the turnovers on offense are a concern), and they are the lowest rated team in Pomeroy’s ratings among the top 6 seeds (50th).

If you value pluckiness…

Melvin Ejim

Hey, you know what it’s like to be vertically challenged. Perhaps you flashback to those glory days when you and your buddies ran the collegiate intramural leagues with only one guy over 6’2″. You can identify with the teams that get it done without the next Patrick Ewing, or Magic Johnson sized point guards.

Iowa State Cyclones: Georges Niang is the tallest member of the rotation, at 6’7″, and he is more of a small forward who has the ability to pull bigger players outside and handle the ball. Melvin Ejim is a rebounding machine at 6’6″. Iowa State gets it done with versatility and utilizing everyone as a shooter, the ability to push and get their points in transition without committing turnovers.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams: VCU has Juvonte Reddic as the one interior presence. Other than that, it’s quickness, havoc, and more mayhem. VCU ranks first nationally in steal percentage, and creates a turnover once every four possessions.

Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners need Ryan Spangler in the game, as the only real inside defensive presence.  Oklahoma bears a decent resemblance to their conference rivals Iowa State, and has plenty of good shooters and likes to push it for points.

Michigan Wolverines: Mitch McGary’s injury forced the Wolverines to adapt. Michigan has decent size on the wings, but has only one true post in at a time, in Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford off the bench. Michigan, like other successful teams, does it with great shooting and avoiding turnovers on offense.

If you like things that go fast…

Stanford v UCLA

Maybe you want a team that can push it in transition and looks to run often. In that case, may we introduce you to…

The North Carolina Tar Heels: North Carolina doesn’t always play up to their height and length. In what is a common Williams trait, they like to push the pace, and can attack the glass on offense with their size. (The Tar Heels are not a good defensive rebounding team, though).

The UCLA Bruins: Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood has been far different stylistically than recent New Mexico squads. They have size, but also like to get out and run. Teams have had success shooting against them, but they force turnovers and limit multiple opportunities.

If you value teams who make things uncomfortable…

Russ Smith

Then go with one of these squads, because they really go after it on defense.

Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats: On defense, these two rivals have a lot in common. They force turnovers, they are aggressive, and they make shots difficult. You can hurt both on the offensive glass (if you can get a shot up).  On offense, though, the Cardinals like to push the pace, while Cincinnati is methodical.

If you think shooting is overrated…

CJ Fair

You can identify with the team that can lay some bricks, but also knows how to battle to make a house out of the pile. You’ve been known to scream, “Follow your shot!”  because you know that it is likely to bounce back at you.

San Diego State Aztecs and Syracuse Orangemen: These are your two bricklayer teams, ranking outside the top 200 in shooting (Cincinnati also applies), but getting a larger amount of their offense from getting on the offensive glass, along with just getting shots up (both fare well in turnovers). Both of these teams also rank near the top in turnovers forced on defense.  

Baylor Bears: Baylor turns the ball over, but they make up for it by getting on the offensive glass with their front court length (tallest team among this group). They are not, however, a good defensive rebounding team. 

Kansas Jayhawks: Kansas doesn’t have a problem making shots. They do at times, though, have a problem getting them, because of the highest turnover rate among top contenders. If they do get shots up, though, with Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid (maybe), and Perry Ellis, they are likely to get the second chance if it does not go in.

If you enjoy taking a measured approach…

ACC Basketball Tournament - Duke v Virginia

These are the teams that are offensively efficient, but don’t particularly attack the glass with zeal.

Duke Blue Devils and Wisconsin Badgers: Both teams ranks in the top 10 in avoiding turnovers on offense, and in the top 40 in effective field goal percentage. Neither attacks the glass on offense, preferring to get back on defense in the event they miss. If you like your offense with a little more pep, go with Jabari Parker’s team. If you prefer a more deliberate pace, the choice is Wisconsin.

If you enjoy the slow kill…

Nick Johnson along the baseline

The Arizona Wildcats, Wichita State Shockers, Michigan State Spartans, or Virginia Cavaliers: All of these highly seeded teams and national title contenders share some common traits. They all rank top 50 in opponent’s average possession length–meaning they make teams work for shots and run down the shot clock looking for one. With the exception of Michigan State, they all rank in the top 20 in opponent effective field goal percentage (and Michigan State’s healthy team that enters the NCAA would be there, but they battled injuries for half the season). Finally, when opponent’s do get shots up, its usually one and done.

And if you really, really can’t make up your mind…

villanova beat syracuse and also louisville this week

Well, we are at the end, and one team remains. They do not rank in the top 20 in any of the underlying factors, but fare pretty well in all. They don’t have the overpowering defense, but they are pretty solid. They have pretty good shooters. They can run when necessary, or slow it down.

The Villanova Wildcats: Yes, if you have made it this far, and cannot decide, then Villanova is your team.

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