The Midwest Region features the presumptive favorite, the team that played the toughest schedule, another that just ran through the ACC, to go with other top contenders from the Big Ten and Big 12. Oh, and another team that has players with Final Four experience lurking in the bracket.
Here’s a breakdown of the teams using the “Four Factors”: effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, rebounding rate, and free throw rate. Using those four items for both offense and defense, along with tempo ranking, overall offense and defense efficiency ranking at kenpom.com, and tournament seeding, I created a list of comparable teams. For each team, I list the 12 most similar NCAA teams from the last eight tournaments (2007-2014).
#1 Kentucky Wildcats: Breaking news, Kentucky is really good. If we are picking nits, then their relative weakness is that they are not a great outside shooting team. They make up for it by being one of the best offensive rebounding teams, to go with the best defensive rim-protecting team, in the top 2 in block % and FG% defense. Oddly, given their length, they are not a great defensive rebounding team (probably a tradeoff with challenging so many shots).
Kentucky’s similar teams understate their chances. Gonzaga and Wichita State were two #1’s that had similar styles, but against lesser competition. Still, three of the last five national champs show up on the list, along with Calipari’s Memphis team that should have won the title in 2008.
#2 Kansas Jayhawks: Very good defensive team. Not a great shooting team–inconsistency from 3-point range. Good at getting on the glass and to the free throw line. Not a vintage KU shot blocking team, without a true rim-protecting center, outside top 30 in block % for only second time since 2006.
#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Elite offensive team, great shooters, smart, and don’t turn it over. Limited defensively, they can be hurt on glass, and don’t have interior shot blockers, and rank outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency.
#4 Maryland Terrapins: Good at getting to foul line and making free throws. Not a great rebounding team. Play solid half court defense, don’t generate a lot of turnovers or steals.
#5 West Virginia Mountaineers: Pressing, high pressure team that leads country in turnovers forced per possession and plays at a fast tempo. Can be scored on if you can handle their pressure. Terrible outside shooting team, really relies on offensive boards to generate and sustain offense.
#6 Butler Bulldogs: Great rebounding team, controlling glass on both ends despite not being among tallest teams. Not a great shooting team but good offensively because they avoid turnovers, create second chances, and get to foul line. Excellent at defending three point line.
Hey, look at that, the 2010 Butler squad that went to the national title game shows up among the similar teams here, and the one with the greatest success. Plenty of others that failed to get out of the first weekend.
#7 Wichita State Shockers: Good all around defensively, no major weaknesses. Avoid turnovers and play smart. Really good rebounding team. Among leaders in country in forcing teams to use a lot of shot clock per possession.
Now, that’s a group of live underdogs. The Wichita State team that went to the Final Four just a few years ago as a #9 seed (and the team they beat to start the run). The Butler team that went to the Championship Game as an 8 seed. A Tennessee team that made the Elite 8, along with Steph Curry’s Davidson team. They must get past streaky Indiana to set up that fantastic matchup with Kansas.
#8 Cincinnati Bearcats: One of the slower paced teams in tournament. Good offensive rebounding team, but not defensive rebounding. Among worst at turning ball over on offense. Really good field goal percentage defense, and don’t send opponent to foul line often.
#9 Purdue Boilermakers: Good interior defense with Hammons, vulnerable to outside shots. Gets on glass offensively and gets to foul line. Can be turnover prone.
Kentucky and the Wichita State team from the last two years show up on the list of comparables, because of the ability to defend the rim in half court. Considering that all were in toss-up games to open, winning 75% of them is interesting.
These similar offensively good, defensively bad teams were able to win early, but none advanced farther than the Sweet Sixteen.
#11 Texas Longhorns: Plenty of size. Lead the nation in 2-pt FG% defense and blocks, just ahead of Kentucky. Good offensive rebounding, but mistake-prone on offense and not a great shooting team.
#12 Buffalo Bulls: One of fastest tempo teams in the tournament. Don’t turn the ball over, get on the glass, and get to free throw line. Not real tall, but good at creating steals and challenging shots.
[photos via USAT Sports Images]