2016 NCAA Midwest Team Capsules

2016 Midwest Region

(1) Virginia (26-7)
Virginia is better than they appear to be because their average margin of victory isn’t as impressive as other elite teams. That’s in large part due to playing their games at the slowest pace in the nation but Virginia stacks up with other elite teams in compensated per possession ratings (3rd in the nation). Virginia is better offensively than past editions, as the Cavaliers rank 25th in the nation is effective FG% while also taking care of the ball (19th in offensive turnovers). Virginia’s defense doesn’t appear to be as good as in recent years, as their defensive FG% allowed isn’t particularly impressive (79th in 2-point FG defense and 185th in 3-point defense) but the Cavaliers faced a lot of good offensive teams and they actually rank 5th in the nation in compensated defensive efficiency. Over the years under coach Tony Bennett the Cavaliers have played relatively better against better opposition and that’s been the case again this season. Virginia has lost 4 games to teams out of the top 50 (George Washington, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State) but they’re 7-2 against top 15 teams with wins over West Virginia and Villanova out of conference, a 2 game sweep of Louisville, 2-1 against Miami-Florida and 1-1 against North Carolina. Virginia is a team that could lose to a lesser team in the round of 32 or the Sweet 16 but the Cavaliers could also win the championship. There could be some value in taking Virginia to win it all but they could also sink your bracket with an upset loss.

(2) Michigan State (29-5)
Michigan State is a team that you should consider as a possible champion. I guess that’s obvious since the Spartans are a #2 seed but there is no doubt that they are the best #2 seed. One of Michigan State’s losses came when star Denzel Valentine was out and the Spartans lost 3 of 4 games after Valentine’s return from injury. Since then Michigan State has won 13 of 14 games with the only loss being in overtime at Purdue. The Spartans have a neutral court win over #1 overall seed Kansas and they’re 6-2 against my top 25 teams with Valentine playing. MSU is also incredibly balanced, ranking #8 in the nation in effective field goal percentage on offense and #2 in EFG% defense, and there are no real weaknesses on this team. Michigan State is a team you can feel pretty good about advancing through the early rounds, as they’re 22-0 under Tom Izzo in NCAA Tournament games when favored by 6 points or more and have only lost one time under Izzo to a team seeded #3 or worse when they’re a #3 or better seed. The Spartans are actually 23-5 in the NCAA Tournament when seeded #3 or better under Izzo with 4 of those losses coming against #1 or #2 seeds. Only twice in 18 NCAA Tournaments has Tom Izzo’s team lost before their seeding would project them to lose. In this case, that would mean a trip at least the Elite 8 and I think the Final Four is the destination for the Spartans. In fact, I like the Michigan State to win the Tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should pick them, as that depends on if there is any value in taking the Spartans.

(3) Utah (26-8)
Utah struggled a bit in the first half of the season, including a 1-3 start to Pac 12 play, but that was mostly due to their opponents randomly making 38.6% of their 3-point shots against the Utes. That number figured to regress to the mean, which is did (34.9% 3-point defense in their more recent 17 games), and Utah earned the #2 seed in the Pac 12 and reached the finals of the conference tournament before losing to #1 seeded Oregon. Utah is a good team but I think the Utes are a bit over-seeded as a #3 seed and their 4-6 record against teams rated in my top-25 (3 losses to Utah, a loss to Cal and non-conference losses to Miami and Wichita State) does not inspire a ton of confidence in a deep run through the bracket.

(4) Iowa State (21-11)
All of Iowa State’s losses were to teams that made the NCAA Tournament field and they are good enough to beat any team, as evidenced by wins over Kansas and Oklahoma. However, the Cyclones are just 7-10 against my top-50 teams (and lost to Northern Iowa) so I don’t really see Iowa State making a deep run. Iowa State is a very efficient offensive team (56.8% effective FG% ranks 6th in the nation) but the Cyclones are relatively poor defensively and will likely fall as soon as they have a sub-par shooting night against another good team.

(5) Purdue (26-8)
Purdue is a good team that is tough to make shots against (6th in defensive effective FG%) but the Boilermakers can struggle against better teams on the offensive side of the floor and were a modest 5-5 against my top 40 rated teams. It’s particularly tough to score against Purdue in the paint (43.0% 2-point FG% ranks 16th in the nation) so it will likely take a good outside shooting team to beat the Boilermakers. All 8 of Purdue’s losses were against teams that shoot 36% or better for the season from 3-point range – including against lesser teams Illinois, Michigan and Butler – and I’m guessing that the team to knock out the Boilermakers will need to be able to make their outside shots.

(6) Seton Hall (25-8)
Seton Hall is a dangerous team that has played better against better competition this season. The Pirates were 3-3 against Big East Conference powers Villanova and Xavier and they also beat a very good Wichita State team. Overall Seton Hall is 8-6 against NCAA Tournament caliber teams and they actually shot the ball a bit better in those games while allowing 40.5% shooting, which is pretty much the same as the 40.0% shooting they allowed in all games. Seton Hall is a bit inconsistent offensively and are sometimes careless with the ball (268th in turnover percentage) but the Pirates are very good defensively and they’ve proven that they’re capable of beating elite teams. This is one of those teams that could lose in the first round or get to the Elite 8 and neither result would surprise me.

(7) Dayton (25-7)
Dayton built their 25-7 record against a pretty easy schedule of teams but the Flyers are a decent 3-3 against top 50 rated teams. Dayton has the potential to be better than they are, as they are good scoring near the rim (52.0% on 2-point shots) and defending the interior (43.7% allowed on 2-point shots). However, Dayton gets very careless with the basketball, ranking 14th from the bottom in non-steal turnovers committed. Those are bad passes or charges or traveling type of mistakes that can be fixed with more discipline. If the Flyers can clean up those silly mistakes they are capable of beating superior teams. I feel comfortable picking Dayton over Syracuse (unless you get a bonus for upsets) but topping Michigan State would take some luck in the form of 3-point shooting variance.

(8) Texas Tech (19-12)
Tubby Smith is taking his 5th different school to the NCAA Tournament, which is pretty impressive, especially considering that the Red Raiders were not thought of as an NCAA Tourney team heading into this season. Texas Tech earned their way into this tournament with successive February wins over Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma but the Red Raiders are still just 4-9 against my top 50 rated teams and lost to lowly TCU in their opening Big 12 Tournament game. Texas Tech isn’t particularly good shooting the ball (173rd in offensive effective field goal percentage) or defending (139th in defensive EFG%) and I would be really surprised if this team made it to the Sweet 16.

(9) Butler (21-10)
Butler is a good offensive team but their mediocre defense makes it tough for the Bulldogs to consistently beat other good teams. Butler is relatively better against worse teams and the Bulldogs are just 5-9 against teams rated in my top 50. Butler can certainly pull the upset if they face a superior team having an off shooting night, as the Bulldogs can shoot the basketball and they won’t beat themselves (#6 in the nation in offensive turnover percentage). Beating #8 seed Texas Tech would not be an upset but getting past Virginia would take some really positive 3-point shooting variance (i.e. luck).

(10) Syracuse (19-13)
Syracuse beat #3 seed Texas A&M by 7 points and #4 seed Duke by 2 points but both of those wins were due to 3-point shooting luck (46% for Syracuse and 28% for A&M and Duke) and the Orange are just 5-11 against teams in my top 60. Their first round game with Dayton is a toss-up but beating Michigan State in round 2 would be highly unlikely.

(11) Gonzaga (26-7)
This Gonzaga team isn’t as good as in recent years or as good as they were projected to be but the one time they were able to beat St. Mary’s in 3 games was the one that counted most and here they are back in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga was just 2-5 against NCAA Tournament caliber teams, which includes their 1-2 record against St. Mary’s and a loss to SMU, who was ineligible to play in this tournament. The Bulldogs’ only other win over a quality team was a 3 point win over U Conn back in November. Despite the poor record against good teams, Gonzaga actually played fairly well in those games, as their losses were all pretty close – a 1 point loss to Texas A&M, a 5 point loss to Arizona, and losses of 3 points and 5 points to St. Mary’s. Only the 9 point loss at SMU was of a decisive nature and their other two losses this season were also competitive games (a 5 point loss to UCLA and a 1 point loss to BYU). Those results actually don’t tell the entire story, as Gonzaga suffered a lot of negative 3-point variance in those 7 games against NCAA Tourney caliber teams, as the Bulldogs were outshot from 3-point range 33.7% to 38.5%. That’s very random given that the Bulldogs made 37.6% of their 3-pointers for the season while ranking 9th in 3-point defense at 30.3% allowed. Gonzaga actually played very well against good competition, which was hidden by the negative 3-point variance. Gonzaga is likely to be competitive against any team they face and it wouldn’t surprise me if they won a few games.

(12) Arkansas Little Rock (29-4)
Arkansas played a pretty easy schedule but their 29-4 record is impressive and the Trojans were 2-1 against teams rated higher than them with wins at San Diego State and Tulsa and a loss at Texas Tech. Little Rock is a good defensive team (38.6% FG allowed and 55th in compensated defensive efficiency) that shoots the ball well from long distance (38.7% on 3-pointers) and takes care of the ball (only 11 turnovers per game). Those are characteristics of a team that could pull off an upset or two and it’s unfortunate that the Trojans drew a Purdue team that is more like a #3 seed than a #5 seed. Little Rock is capable of putting a scare into Purdue if they knock down a high percentage of their 3-point shots but it’s only worth the risk picking the Trojans to advance if you get bonus points for upsets.

(13) Iona (22-10)
Iona has a star in A.J. English, who averages 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game, but the Gaels played 6 games against good teams with English in the lineup (he missed 5 games) and they were just 2-5 in those games, beating Monmouth 2 of 3 but losing to Valparaiso, Oregon State and Tulsa by an average of 18 points. A win over first opponent Iowa State, who is not a good defensive team, would not surprise me – but it’s also not likely.

(14) Fresno State (25-9)
Fresno State won their final 9 games of the season and beat San Diego State for a second time to capture the Mountain West tournament title. The Bulldogs weren’t completely outclassed by Pac 12 opponents Oregon (a 5 point road loss) and Arizona (a 13 point road loss) and two wins and an overtime loss against San Diego State is pretty impressive, so the Utes should be cautioned to not take this team lightly.

(15) Middle Tennessee State (24-9)
Middle Tennessee State lost by 6 points at home to VCU, the only NCAA Tournament caliber team that they’ve faced this season and they drew the best of the #2 seeds in Michigan State. The Blue Raiders can make 3-point shots (39%) and they are a good defensive rebounding team that could limit second chance points, so an upset is not completely out of the question if they can make 50% of their 3-point shots while Michigan State has an off shooting night. That chances of that, however, are very slim.

(16) Hampton (21-10)
Hampton faced 4 teams this season that rank in my top 100 teams and all 4 games were blowout losses – a 19 point loss at William & Mary, a 33 point loss at SMU, a 42 point loss at Colorado, and a 30 point home loss to Princeton. Yikes!

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