Given the third-ranked status and elite play from the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball program, it is easy to conclude that this is a national championship contender. The good news is that the eyeball test is backed up by a recent analytical trend that puts them in the running to win it all.
KenPom, which is one of the most popular analytics cited in college basketball coverage, measures teams based on efficiency to paint a picture of how a team compares to the rest of the nation. It can also help us tier out who the contenders and pretenders are.
As we discussed in our primer for the season, the trend over the last ten years of college basketball is that the team that wins it all generally has one of the ten most efficient offenses in America and is also in the top 15 defensively. The exception is a pair of UConn title teams in 2011 and 2014.
Let’s quickly redefine those terms and put them in context with where Michigan currently stands.
Adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO): This is the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions, or trips down the floor with the basketball. Michigan ranks sixth in the country in AdjO by averaging 121 points per 100 possessions.
Adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD): This is the amount of points a team allows per 100 possessions. Michigan ranks 11th in the country here, averaging 90.4 points given up per 100 possessions.
Below is the snapshot of how the last ten title teams finished:
2010 Duke: 1st in AdjO, 5th in Adj5
2011 Connecticut: 19th in AdjO, 15th in AdjD
2012 Kentucky: 2nd in AdjO, 7th in AdjD
2013 Louisville: 7th in AdjO, 1st in AdjD
2014 Connecticut: 39th in AdjO, 10th in AdjD
2015 Duke: 3rd in AdjO, 11th in AdjD
2016 Villanova: 3rd in AdjO, 5th in AdjD
2017 North Carolina: 9th in AdjO, 11th in AdjD
2018 Villanova: 1st in AdjO, 11th in AdjD
2019 Virginia: 2nd in AdjO, 5th in AdjD
2020: no champion, thanks COVID!
It is always possible that someone makes a UConn-type run through the tournament, especially in what projects to be an unusual March against the backdrop of the pandemic. However, the data paints a picture of what the most likely outcomes are.
Four teams, including Michigan, currently fit the above criteria.
Gonzaga (2nd AdjO, 7th AdjD) and Baylor (4th AdjO, 8th AdjD) have long been thought to be the two best teams in the country, so it is no surprise that they fit into the mix here. Michigan is right up there with them with the sixth-ranked offense and 11th-ranked defense in the country. The Wolverines slid a few spots due to the Ohio State game and have spent time in the top ten throughout the last several weeks. Illinois just barely slides in with the eighth-ranked offense and 15th-ranked defense.
These are the four teams with the best shot to win it all if the trend continues. However, there are a few teams right on the edge that could put themselves into the conversation.
Houston has a chance to make a run thanks to its 14th-ranked offense and sixth-ranked defense and actually ranks higher than Illinois in total efficiency on KenPom. Reigning national champion Virginia (13th AdjO, 21st AdjD) could put itself in the contender group with a stretch of good games. USC (20th AdjO, 14th AdjD) is quietly having a very good season, but still has some work to do offensively.
UConn was able to buck this trend with star players like Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier leading the charge. Iowa (1st AdjO, 75th AdjD) might be a candidate to bust through given Luka Garza and the team’s offensive output, but they do not even come close defensively to hitting the criteria. Ohio State (3rd AdjO, 86th AdjD) is similar from an offensive profile, but even less efficient than Iowa is defensively. These types of things matter. That is not to say they cannot make a deep run in the tournament, but it drastically affects their chances of winning it all.
Alabama (24th AdjO, 2nd AdjD) might have the best shot of the outlier teams to push for a title given a competent offense that plays fast and an elite defense.
These numbers will all adjust and change as more games are played and the data is collected. All bets are off as to what this tournament could look like and this is far from predicting the future. However, this might be helpful knowledge for the gamblers and those who participate in the office bracket pools.
And oh yeah, those of you wanting the peace of mind that Michigan is, in fact, elite and a threat to win it all.