2016 NCAA East Team Capsules

2016 East Region

(1) North Carolina (28-6)
North Carolina beat Virginia in the ACC Tournament final to avenge their regular season loss to the Cavaliers but the Tarheels are just 5-5 against teams I rank in my top 40 (1-1 against Virginia, 1-1 against Duke, 1-1 against Notre Dame, a home win over Miami, a road loss at Louisville, a home win over Maryland, and a loss at Texas). That’s not a record that inspires confidence in a Final Four trip but the Tarheels have the statistical characteristics of a team that should beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat and make a run at the Final Four. UNC doesn’t take many 3-point shots (because they’re not good at making them) and such teams are less prone to early round upsets since fewer 3-point attempts equals less variance. The Tarheels are great inside the paint, with a high 2-point shooting percentage (53.9%) and the ability to rebound their misses (39.8% offensive rebound rate is 4th in the nation). The Tarheels could have issues with a team that plays good interior defense since they are a horrible outside shooting team (31.4% 3-pointers) and teams that can make 3-pointers could derail the Tarheels given their inability to defend the 3-point arc (36.0% allowed is 251st in the nation). I’m not sure what to think about North Carolina. The Tarheels’ overall rating certainly puts them in the discussion as one of the favorites to win the tournament and they are less prone to upset losses, but UNC also has weaknesses in outside shooting and 3-point defense that could lead to a loss against a good team that plays good interior defense and can shoot the ball from deep.

(2) Xavier (27-5)
Xavier is an all-around good team but the Musketeers are not a great team. Xavier ranks 108th in offensive effective field goal percentage and 83rd in defensive EFG%, which are not particularly impressive, but the Musketeers are a physical team that gets to the free throw line (and makes them at a 73% rate) and rebounds on both sides of the floor (28th in offensive rebounding and 44th in defensive rebounding). Xavier is not likely to beat themselves or get outworked and it’s unlikely that they’ll get upset by an inferior opponent (their worst loss was to a decent Georgetown team). However, Xavier only faced two teams that rank in my top 30 and they were 2-3 against those opponents – splitting a pair of games with Villanova and losing 2 of 3 to Seton Hall. Xavier is good enough to make a run, especially given their generous seeding (I would have made them a #4 seed), but I think the Musketeers will have to survive some close games to get to the Final Four. That could happen but I wouldn’t bet on it.

(3) West Virginia (26-8)
West Virginia is a tough team to gauge because the Mountaineers play such an extreme style of basketball. Bobby Huggins’ team is incredibly aggressive, as the Mounties rank first in the nation in defensive steal percentage and offensive rebound percentage while ranking dead last in sending opponents to the free throw line due to their aggressive defense. West Virginia is a worse than average shooting team (when factoring out the layups that get off turnovers) so teams that can take care of the ball against their pressure and also rebound the ball well have a relatively advantage against the Mountaineers. Virginia is a perfect example of the type of team that would match up well, as the Cavaliers rank 19th in avoiding turnovers, 20th in the nation in free throw percentage and 34th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. West Virginia was 0-3 against good teams that rank in the top 25 in offensive turnover percentage, losing to Virginia by 16 points and losing to Texas by 7 points both at home and on the road. The only other team that the Mountaineers faced that take care of the ball at a high level was Richmond and they won that game by only 8 points (about 6 points less than expected). Virginia was the only team that West Virginia faced that ranks in the top 50 in defensive rebounding, but I believe good defensive rebounding teams would play relatively well against West Virginia too. How far West Virginia goes in the tournament depends on their match ups but overall the Mounties were just 6-7 against teams ranked in my top-35 so I don’t see them living up to their seeding.

(4) Kentucky (26-8)
Kentucky’s talented and youthful team struggled with inconsistency early in the season but the Wildcats got better as the season progressed and giving shooter Derek Willis (44% 3-pointers) an increased role starting in mid-January has been one of the reasons for the improvement. Kentucky still has some struggles away from home but the Wildcats nearly beat overall #1 seed Kansas in Lawrence before succumbing in overtime and they were able to avenge a loss to Texas A&M on a neutral court in the SEC tournament (won in overtime). Kentucky is actually better offensively than they were last season but the Wildcats have struggled on defensive side of the floor at times. The Wildcats give up too many defensive rebounds (270th in defense rebound percentage) and they foul too much (273rd in sending opponents to the line) and they’ll be tough to beat if they improve in those areas because they certainly have the ability to defend at a high level (15th in defensive effective FG%). This is a team that has the talent to beat anyone.

(5) Indiana (25-7)
I was a bit surprised that Indiana was seeded so low, as I thought the Hoosiers would be no worse than a #4 seed. I suppose the committee thought losing one game to Michigan in the first round of the Big 10 tournament outweighed the fact that Indiana won the 18 game regular season championship with a 15-3 record (another case of sound logic). While Indiana is under-seeded I do see the Hoosiers as a team that will have a tough time making a deep run in this tournament. Indiana depends too much on their good shooting (#2 in the nation in effective FG%) and eventually they’re likely to have a game when the shots aren’t falling. When they have such a game they won’t be able to compensate with their mediocre defense. Indiana lost 3 games to teams that rank 125th or worse in my ratings (Wake Forest, UNLV, and Penn State), so an early round upset on a randomly bad outside shooting night could do them in. Then again, the Hoosiers are also 6-3 against my top 40 rated teams, so they can beat a good team when their shots are falling, and winning the rugged Big 10 is certainly an indication of the overall quality of this team. Indiana has made 41.5% of their 3-pointers this season but making just 4 of 17 long range shots against Michigan led to a 3 point loss upset loss and all it takes is another such game to knock them out of this tournament. I wouldn’t trust the Hoosiers to win too many games but I also wouldn’t want my team to have to face them.

(6) Notre Dame (21-11)
Notre Dame made a nice run in last year’s tournament with a highly efficient offense and a defense that played at a higher level than they did in the regular season. The Irish are once against good offensively (10th in compensated offensive efficiency) and have room to improve defensively after ranking near the middle of the nation in compensated defense. The biggest issue has been their opponents making 37.5% of their 3-point shots but a big part of that problem is simply variance and that number is likely to drop going forward. Despite the mediocre defense Notre Dame proved capable of beating good teams with wins over North Carolina, Louisville, Iowa, and Duke twice. The Irish are also capable of losing to any team in this field if their defense doesn’t improve. Notre Dame is likely to win their first round game against either Tulsa or Michigan, two teams that shouldn’t even be in the tournament, and a 2nd round upset of West Virginia wouldn’t surprise me given that the Irish (10th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage) might hold up well against the Mountaineers’ pressure defense (#2 in forcing turnovers).

(7) Wisconsin (20-12)
Wisconsin started the season poorly and longtime head coach Bo Ryan decided to retire in mid-December. The Badgers continued to struggle a bit and got were 9-9 in mid-January when they went on an 11-1 run with their only loss coming to Michigan State (who they started the win streak against). Wisconsin enters the NCAA Tourney off consecutive losses, including an upset loss to Nebraska in their conference tournament, and their fate in this tournament will likely be determined by 3-point shooting. The difference between the first 18 games and the final 14 games was 33.5% 3-point shooting during their 9-9 start and 38.3% 3-point shooting from mid-January on. Wisconsin’s 3-point defense is also an issue, as the Badgers have allowed opponents to make 38% from long range, which is actually a number that I expected to regress towards the mean but actually got worse as the season progressed. The good news is that Wisconsin doesn’t allow many 3-point attempts and they defend the interior pretty well (29th in compensated 2-point defense). Wisconsin is 6-6 against teams I rank in my top 50 and there is no obvious common thread in the teams that Wisconsin beat or lost to. The Badgers are a tough team to forecast but their games will likely come down to 3-point shooting and they’ll likely lose if they don’t shoot as well as they did during their late season 11-1 run.

(8) USC (21-12)
USC started the season 15-3 but the Trojans cooled down the stretch because they couldn’t beat a good team. The 6-9 record over their last 15 games includes solid wins over pretty good teams Colorado, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA but the Trojans lost their last 6 games against the Pac 12’s best teams Oregon, Utah, Cal and Arizona. USC has just one win all season against a top 40 team, a quadruple overtime win over Arizona, as their November win over Wichita State was when the Shocker were without star Fred VanVleet. The Trojans are good enough to beat good, but not great, teams but they’re just 1-7 against top 40 rated teams.

(9) Providence (23-10)
Providence is dangerous because they have one of the best point guards in the nation in Kris Dunn but the bad shooting (246th in effective FG%) will make it tough on the Friars to get far in this tournament. Providence did manage to beat Arizona early in the season and they have a win at Villanova to their credit. However, the Friars also lost to the Wildcats decisively on two occasions and are just 2-7 against my top 30 rated teams. Beating inconsistent #8 seed USC would be no upset but beating North Carolina would require exploiting the Tarheels’ poor perimeter defense and the Friars aren’t good enough shooters (32.1% on 3-pointers ranks 285th in the nation) to do that.

(10) Pittsburgh (21-11)
Pittsburgh is just 7-10 in their last 17 games and they’re 0-7 against teams ranked in my top 20. Those numbers don’t instill confidence in a deep run by the Panthers. Pitt could certainly get past Wisconsin in a toss-up game and Xavier is the worst of the 2 seeds but it’s still a risk to advance Pitt to the Sweet 16.

(11) Michigan (22-12)
Michigan and their opening round opponent Tulsa should both feel very fortunate to be invited to this tournament, as they simply don’t belong. The Wolverines do have recent wins oer Purdue and Indiana but they’re also just 4-10 against NCAA Tournament caliber teams and getting rewarded for having 4 top-50 wins is ridiculous when a team also have 10 top 50 losses. How does the committee not see that winning 29% of games against top 50 teams is an indication that that team is not a top 50 team? I feel bad for more deserving teams like St. Mary’s, Monmouth, and Valparaiso that didn’t invited because the committee values the number of top-50 wins rather than the percentage of games against top-50 teams won. I also thought the committee was supposed to consider the current state of a team when a star player is injured and Michigan is not nearly they team now that they were when star Caris LeVert was playing. Michigan is just 11-9 in games without LeVert, which is another indication of how undeserving the Wolverines are. Coach John Beilein does have a strong history of over-achieving in this tournament, as evidenced by his 16-8 straight up record and 17-5-2 Against the Spread record in NCAA tourney games with Richmond, West Virginia, and Michigan, and he’s advanced further than his seed would dictate 5 times in 8 NCAA tournaments his teams have been to (1 under-achieving the seed and twice at seeding expectations).

(11) Tulsa (20-11)
Tulsa also has questionable case to be included in this tournament. The Golden Hurricane are a respectable 4-6 against NCAA tournament caliber teams (including SMU and South Carolina) but they are also just 3-4 against teams rated between 60th and 100th with losses to Houston, Temple, and Memphis twice. I realize that Temple is in the tournament field but I rate the Owls at #83. Tulsa is actually better than they’ve shown, as it’s unlucky that their opponents have made 74.9% of their free throws against the Hurricane, which ranks 5th from worst in the nation. Tulsa’s opponents also have made more 3-point shots (36.3%) than projected so the Hurricane is actually 1 1/2 points better than their average game rating would suggest. Even with that adjustment for variance Tulsa ranks just 54th in my ratings and there were more deserving teams that did not make the tourney. Tulsa is capable of winning a game or two because they’re good inside the 3-point arc on both ends of the court, making 51.0% of their 2-point shots and allowing just 44.7% 2-point shooting. The Hurricane also take care of their possessions, ranking 26h in offensive turnover percentage. Rebounding the ball is an issue for a pretty small lineup but Tulsa is the most experienced team in the nation and that could work to their favor in a close game. The play in game against Michigan is certainly winnable and Notre Dame has flaws but it’s still a gamble to pick Tulsa to advance.

(12) Chattanooga (29-5)
Chattanooga has a few wins over decent teams Georgia, Illinois and Dayton (when the Flyers were not fully healthy) to go along with a 20 point loss to Iowa State but the Mocs got a horrible draw with Indiana as the #5 seed they have to face. The Hoosiers won the Big 10 title and are more like a #3 seed than a #5 seed. I don’t see the 12 vs 5 upset here, as Indiana should score with ease against a defensively mediocre Chattanooga squad.

(13) Stony Brook (26-6)
Stony Brook is getting some notice for taking Vanderbilt to overtime back in November but the SeaWolves also lost by 25 points at Notre Dame in their only other game against an NCAA Tournament caliber team. Stony Brook was just 6-5 straight up against better than average Division 1 teams while going 20-1 against worse than average teams. Kentucky would have to be taking this game lightly for Stony Brook to advance.

(14) Stephen F. Austin (27-5)
SF Austin dominated the lowly Southland Conference, which ranks among the very worst in the nation with only one other team ranking among the top 200 teams in the nation. The Lumberjacks won all 20 of their games against Southland teams with their aggressive defense creating turnovers (#1 in the nation in turnover percentage) leading to plenty of easy baskets (#12 in 2-point FG%) but that style is likely to backfire against a West Virginia team that plays the same way but with better talent. SF Austin faced 4 teams that rank in the top 150 teams in the nation and the Lumberjacks lost all 4 of those games to Baylor, Northern Iowa, Arizona State, and UAB by an average margin of 17.3 points. Most of that damage was done by Baylor (a 42 point loss) but the Bears were also the only NCAA tournament caliber team that they faced.

(15) Weber State (26-8)
Weber State played just 3 games against top-100 teams, losing to BYU by 5 on a neutral site and splitting a couple of games with South Dakota State. That doesn’t qualify them to be picked to beat a very good Xavier squad so it looks like a one game tournament for the Wildcats.

(16) Florida Gulf Coast (20-13)
The Cinderella story from a few years ago is back in the NCAA Tournament but this year’s team is not nearly as good as the 2013 team that made it to the Sweet 16. The Eagles lost by an average of 15 points to Florida and Texas A&M, the only good teams they faced in the regular season, and their chances of becoming the first 16 seed to beat a #1 seed are very slim.

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