NCAA Tournament Capsules: West Region (2017)

West Region


(1) Gonzaga (32-1)

Gonzaga has the highest adjusted total efficiency in the nation and the question is if they built up those impressive compensated efficiency numbers by beating up on weaker teams. That answer is no. Gonzaga played relatively better against better teams, both offensively and defensively, and they have wins over highly rated teams Florida (77-72), Iowa State (73-71), Arizona (69-62) and 3 wins over a really good St. Mary’s team (19th in my ratings) by an average margin of 17 points. Gonzaga’s only loss was by 8 points to BYU but the Bulldogs made just 3 of 16 (19%) 3-point shots and only 16 of 29 (55%) of their free-throws in that game, so there was a lot of negative variance involved in that loss.

Gonzaga ranks #2 in the nation in effective FG% offense and #1 in the nation in EFG% defense while ranking 12th in compensated offensive efficiency and #2 in compensated defensive efficiency. The Zags are really, really good and should not be so easily dismissed as in past years when they under-performed their seeding. Those previous Gonzaga teams had some weaknesses but this team is balanced and deep and has no glaring weakness. The Bulldogs makes 38.2% of their 3-point shots while also ranking 4th in the nation in 2-point FG% and 27th in fewest offensive turnovers. Their defense ranks 7th in 3-point defense and 2nd in 2-point defense. Gonzaga can beat any team in this tournament and a case can be made that they should be the favorite to win it all given that they have the best overall compensated efficiency numbers and have played relatively better against other good teams.


(2) Arizona (30-4)

Arizona deserved their #2 seed by winning the Pac 12 tournament after tying for 1st in the conference in the regular season, but the Wildcats aren’t really as good as a #2 seed should be. Arizona is just 3-4 against teams ranked in my top-40 and their 30.6% 3-point defense is likely to regress to the mean, which means that they’re likely not going to be as good as they’ve shown themselves to be. Two of their losses to good teams, versus Butler and Gonzaga, were played before leading scorer Allonzo Trier joined the team in January after sitting out the first 19 games of the season, and the Wildcats are 3-2 against top-40 teams UCLA and Oregon with Trier. However, Arizona’s rating in 15 games with Trier is actually slightly lower than their overall rating so he actually has made no difference.

Arizona is a good team but what worries me about the Wildcats making a prolonged run is their defensive dependence on holding teams to a low 3-point shooting percentage. I’ve already mentioned that Arizona’s 30.6% 3-point defense is likely to regress to the mean a bit and their #117 rank in 2-point defense and #224 rank in forcing turnovers could be an issue if they come across a team that is knocking down their 3-point shots. Given that 3-pointers are highly variable it’s just not likely that Arizona can win too many games in a row against other good teams and all it will take is one game against a good team when they don’t have an edge in 3-point shooting to eliminate them from the tournament. On a positive note, the Wildcats don’t take a lot of 3-pointers (300th in 3-point attempt percentage) so their offense is not as likely to suffer if they have a night when they’re not knocking down outside shots and they can improve if they decide to take more 3-point shots on offense (39.8% 3-pointers is 15th nationally).


(3) Florida State (25-8)

Florida State is a balanced team that ranks 18th in offense and 22nd on defense in my efficiency ratings and the Seminoles played pretty well against other teams, going 5-4 against teams ranked in my top-25. What I like about Florida State is that their success was not built on good 3-point stats, as they were pretty mediocre in both 3-point offense (#139 at 35.6%) and 3-point defense (#132 at 34.4%). FSU is good because they are good inside the arc, ranking 25th in the nation in 2-point offense (54.1%) and 34th in 2-point defense (45.1%) while also having a good turnover differential (+3.5%).

Three pointers are highly variable and 3-point percentages in NCAA Tournament games tend to be lower because more games are played in domes, which is tough on shooters because it alters depth perception. Teams that are good in 2-point offense and defense tend to be more consistent and Florida State is a team that is capable of making a run if they can avoid a really good 3-point shooting team that takes a lot of 3-pointers. If you see a high volume and accurate 3-point shooting team that can play interior defense in Florida State’s path you might consider picking against the Seminoles in that game.


(4) West Virginia (26-8)

West Virginia has ranked #1 or #2 in defensive turnover percentage in each of the last 3 seasons (#1 this season) but this year’s team is more well rounded than the previous two versions of the Mountaineers. The biggest difference between this year’s #4 seeded team and last year’s #3 seeded team is 3-point shooting, as the Mounties are a better than average outside shooting team this season (36.1% 3-pointers) after being dreadful in that department the previous two seasons (32.5% last year and 31.6% the year before that).

West Virginia is not as susceptible to losing to a team with a good interior defense that doesn’t turn the ball over and they don’t need their normal allotment of turnovers to win games this season. The Mountaineers played 4 games this season against teams that rank in the top-20 in offensive turnover percentage (lower the better, obviously) and they were 3-1 in those games, winning straight up by 9 points at Virginia and going 2-1 against Iowa State, who ranks #3 in the nation in offensive turnover percentage and averaged only 13 turnovers in 3 games against Bobby Huggins’ team. The fact that West Virginia could win 3 of those 4 games against really good teams that don’t turn the ball over (and only averaged 13 turnovers in those games) is a testament to how good this Mountaineers team is and that they’re a lot more than just a team that depends on turnovers to win.

Overall, West Virginia is 5-3 against my top-20 rated teams, as they also split games with Baylor (outscored the Bears by 12 points) and with #1 seeded Kansas, who they beat by 16 points at home and went to overtime before losing in Lawrence. West Virginia belongs on your list of potential Final Four teams, although their 2nd round game against Notre Dame, who leads the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage, will be interesting if the Irish can knock down their 3-point shots at a 40% clip.


(5) Notre Dame (25-9)

Notre Dame is a team that usually doesn’t beat themselves. The Irish rank #1 in the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage, they don’t foul (#20 in defensive FT attempt percentage), and they make their free-throws (79.9% is #1 in the nation). Notre Dame is 4-8 against my top-20 rated teams and 21-1 against everyone else, so as their statistical profile suggests they beat the teams that they are supposed to beat and tend to lose to better teams. The #1 offensive turnover ranking will be tested by West Virginia (#1 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage), should the Irish advance past their first game, but that is a game they can win if they limit their turnovers and knock down their 3-point shots at a good rate (38.6% for the season). However, the Irish would need to have consistently hot outside shooting to make a run past the Sweet 16, and 3-point shooting consistency is not really something that can be counted on given the variance in that statistic from game to game.


(6) Maryland (24-8)

Of all the good teams in the nation, Maryland has the most positive slope in the regression equation that predicts game rating as a function of game difficulty. In other words, the Terrapins play much better relatively against good teams than they do against bad teams. The slope of that equation is 0.45, so for every point better their opponent is the Terrapins have been 0.45 points better and Maryland actually has a better straight up record as an underdog (10-2, and 11-1 ATS) than they do as a favorite (14-6 in all other games and 7-12 ATS when favored). There is some variance in that slope, so Maryland is not likely to be that much better relatively against good teams as they’ve been so far, but it’s pretty clear that Maryland is better than their overall efficiency rating of #44 and such teams usually out-perform their seeding. However, Maryland has been seeded pretty accurately in my estimation.

The Terrapins are 7-4 against teams ranked in my top-40 but they lost their only two games to teams in my top-25 (Purdue and Wisconsin). I wouldn’t be surprised if Maryland made a run but they’d need some hot outside shooting to get past Florida State in round 2 and they are also the type of team that could be upset in their first round game.


(7) St. Mary’s (28-4)

Three of St. Mary’s four losses this season have been to #1 seeded Gonzaga (the other to UT Arlington) but the Gaels also didn’t play any other teams in my top-40. However, beating #45 ranked Dayton by 4 points on the road is the same as beating a #28 rated team on a neutral court and the Gaels also beat up on good teams Nevada (by 28 points) and BYU three times by an average of 19 points, so the loss to UT Arlington (#95 in my ratings) is most likely an aberration.

One thing is for sure, St. Mary’s is a really good offensive team. The Gaels rank 14th in the nation in 3-point shooting at 39.9% (it was even higher last year, so that’s not a fluke) and #8 in 2-point shooting (56.5%) and they’re #14 in my overall offensive efficiency ranking, which takes into account the quality of defenses faced.

In my equations predicting game efficiencies as a function of the opposing offense/defense I found that St. Mary’s was relatively the same offensively regardless of how good the defense is (a slope of -0.001) while their defense, which ranks #32 overall, was relatively worse against better offensive teams (a slope of +0.240). That showed up in their 3 games against Gonzaga, who made 56.5% of their shots against the Gaels, and it was apparent on the other end of the spectrum as well, as they completely shut down bad offensive teams. To get a better sense of  St. Mary’s, I took a look at their regression equations without Gonzaga and also without all their games against bad teams. What that revealed is that the positive slope of St. Mary’s defensive efficiency equation was all a function of the extremes (Gonzaga and the bad offensive teams) and the Gaels’ defense should hold up well against good but not great offensive teams.

So, St. Mary’s should be able to beat teams of their caliber or worse and I actually think they have a pretty good chance of beating Arizona in round 2. If you’re looking for Arizona to under-perform their seeding then taking St. Mary’s to advance to the Sweet 16 should supply some value and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gaels made it even further.


(8) Northwestern (23-11)

Northwestern has made the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever and the Wildcats have a good enough team to win a first-round game but they don’t appear capable of beating a #1 seed. Northwestern is a strong defensive team (#24 in effective FG% defense) and they’re actually a pretty good offensive team despite sub-par shooting numbers (#208 in offensive EFG%) because they don’t turn the ball over (#26 in offensive turnover rate) and they rebound a good percentage of their missed shots.

Northwestern is better than their season rating if you exclude the 12 games that either Scottie Lindsey or shot-blocker Dererk Pardon missed but the Wildcats are just 2-5 against my top-25 teams, including 1-4 when they had their lineup intact. I don’t think that Northwestern is capable of making a run in this tournament, as they don’t possess the characteristics of a team that can spring an upset (i.e. good 3-point shooting and forcing turnovers, which they are below average in both).  I certainly don’t see the ‘Cats getting past Gonzaga if they beat Vandy in their first game.


(9) Vanderbilt (18-15)

Vanderbilt is the first 15 loss team to get an at-large bid and the Commodores deserve it based on a pretty good record against other good teams – with all the wins coming recently. Vandy started the season losing all 9 games they played against teams ranked in my top-60. Then, the Commodores won at Florida and went 7-3 against top-60 teams from late-January on, including two more wins over highly rated Florida and a win over a very good Iowa State team.

Overall, Vanderbilt was relatively better against better competition and the ‘Dores were particularly good at defending efficient offensive teams. However, their offense is really inconsistent, as you’d expect from a team that takes a ton of 3-point shots – 48.6% of their shots are from beyond the arc, which is the 6th highest rate in the nation. Vanderbilt is capable of beating really good teams if their outside shots are falling and they can also lose to any team if they don’t shoot a good percentage from long range. That is evident by Vandy’s 7 losses to teams that I rate at 50th or worse, including a 20 point loss to a horrible Missouri team. Good luck trying to figure out when to pick this team to lose.


(10) Virginia Commonwealth (26-8)

VCU had some good NCAA Tournament history under former head coach Shaka Smart, whose teams led the nation in defensive turnover possession three times in his final four seasons and took a lot of 3-point shots. VCU still ranks pretty high in forcing turnovers (36th in the nation) but the other key component to upsets is a team that takes a lot and makes a lot of 3-point shots, which this Rams’ team does not do – only 29.7% of their attempts are 3-pointers, 318th in the nation, and they make only 33.4% of them (241st in the nation).

VCU is just 1-4 against my top-50 rated teams and in general, the Rams played a bit worse relatively on both offense and defense against better teams. Take VCU to advance at your own risk.


(11) Xavier (21-13)

If Xavier played the entire season without PG Edmond Sumner they’d be preparing for the NIT instead of playing in this tournament. Sumner was injured after 21 games and the Musketeers are just 6-7 without him – although they were also without top scorer Trevon Bluiett in two of those games (both losses). Xavier is capable of winning a game, as they did manage to beat Butler in the Big East Tournament (thanks to 21% 3-point shooting by the Bulldogs), but their defense is really vulnerable to penetration without Sumner defending the opposing point guard. Xavier allowed 54.6% on 2-point shots in 13 games without Sumner and teams that are willing to take the ball to the rim rather than relying on 3-point shots should be able to defeat the Musketeers. Maryland, Xavier’s first round opponent, takes a lot of 3-point shots and an upset win in that game would not surprise me if the Terrapins decide not to change their offensive game-plan and happen to have a worse than average shooting game from beyond the arc.


(12) Princeton (23-6)

This is not your father’s Princeton Tigers and there is no reason to expect an upset, a la the Pete Carril led ’96 team that upset defending champ UCLA. Princeton has won 19 consecutive games but their best win was over 94th ranked Bucknell and all the other wins this season were against teams that I rate at 115th or worse. Princeton’s only game against an NCAA-caliber team was an 11 point loss at VCU and the Tigers are just 1-4 against top-100 teams (all ranked 51st or worse).

Princeton’s poor regular season record against better than average teams doesn’t mean that they can’t win a game, as they do have some components of a team that can pull off an upset. The Tigers take a lot of 3-point shots (46% of their shots are 3-pointers) and they make a good percentage from beyond the arc (38.1%) while also limiting turnovers (11th in offensive turnover percentage) and slowing the pace of the game (15th slowest adjusted pace). A slower pace enhances the chance of an upset but Princeton would likely have to make well over 40% of their 3-pointers to beat Notre Dame.


(13) Bucknell (26-8)

Bucknell was able to win their conference tournament and they won at Vanderbilt early in the season (when Vandy was struggling) but the Bison also lost 2 of their 3 games to the 2nd best team in their league (Lehigh) and were just 3-7 against teams ranked in the top-180 in my ratings. While Bucknell did manage to beat Vanderbilt, they also lost by 20 points to Wake Forest and by 26 points to Butler and overall the Bison were relatively worse against good teams. There is no reason to pick Bucknell to win a game.


(14) Florida Gulf Coast (26-7)

Florida Gulf Coast made noise in this tournament in 2013 under coach Andy Enfield with an aggressive approach but this version of the Eagles isn’t likely to fly so high. FGCU doesn’t have the characteristics of teams that tend to pull off upsets, as the Eagles don’t force turnovers (#257 in defensive turnover percentage despite an easy schedule) and they don’t take or make a lot of 3-point shots. Florida Gulf Coast actually played pretty well in two of their 3 games against NCAA caliber teams, losing at Baylor by only 9 points and at Michigan State by just 1 point, but they also lost by 21 points on a neutral court to Florida and I just don’t see them beating Florida State straight up given the way they play.


(15) North Dakota (22-9)

North Dakota only played one team ranked in my top-100 and they lost that game at #67 Iowa by 11 points. The Fighting Hawks can make 3-pointers (38.4%) but they don’t take enough of them (30.1% of their shots are from 3-point range, which ranks #301 in the nation) and Arizona historically defends the 3-point arc well (#12). An upset win would be a major shock.


(16) South Dakota State (18-16)

South Dakota State played 3 good teams this season and the results were not good. The Jackrabbits lost by 29 points at Cal, by 12 points to East Tennessee State, and by 22 points at Wichita State. Staying within 20 points of Gonzaga would be an accomplishment.


Dr. Bob’s NCAA Tournament Best Bets are 56% over 28 years and have gotten better recently, going 122-93-3 (57%) the last 13 years and 47-31-1 (60%) the last 5 years. Designated ‘opinion’ games are 86-74-4 (54%) the last 5 years in the NCAA Tourney.

The Dr. Bob NCAA Tournament package consists of analysis of every NCAA Tournament game and Brackets analysis for those of you in Tournament pools (available on Wednesday afternoon). The price for the all of  NCAA Tourney analysis is just $275.

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