NCAA Tournament Analysis: Similarity Comparison Shows North Carolina to Be Top Dog, Texas A&M and Kentucky Risky


What have teams like each of this year’s top seeds done in the tournament? I went beyond the overall rating and record of teams, and looked at Ken Pomeroy’s “Four Factors”: effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, rebound rate, and free throw rate on both offense and defense. In addition, I compared overall adjusted offensive and defensive ranking, and team tempo (so slow paced teams tend to get compared, etc.).

This will allow us to not only look at overall quality but style. Sometimes, teams play a similar style to what they have historically done. I can show you Baylor and it would look very similar to past Baylor teams as far as which categories are better or worse.

On the other hand, this year’s Kentucky team is kind of shocking in how it looks differently than recent versions, particularly defensively. This is a highly efficient offense with good shooters that doesn’t turn it over, but the “four factors” confirm a lack of quality and toughness out of the bigs.

Here is each team, ranked by the average wins of their 10 most comparable tournament teams from the last decade.

North Carolina drew a tough region. They also look the most like the teams that have advanced deep. Three teams (North Carolina in 2009, Duke in 2010 and 2015) show up on the most similar team list.

They are actually much better defensively than the reputation would suggest. This is actually a pretty good group of 1s and 2 seeds. The 3’s are weak in this analysis. Texas A&M’s statistical profile fits teams that have been upset in the first two games. Baylor last year and Kansas in 2006 show up as big upsets, and four more fell in their matchup in the next round.

Kentucky doesn’t fare as well here. We’ve seen some recent offensively-skewed teams make runs (Michigan in 2013, Notre Dame last year to the Elite Eight) but it’s still a mixed bag where plenty have not lived up to hype and expectations in March. Will their athletes start defending much better, and rebounding?

Among the teams outside the top 3 seeds, it’s actually Iowa State (because they are similar to that Michigan team that went to the title game) plus more balanced teams like California, Purdue, and Arizona that fare well. Arizona’s comparables suggest they are the type of team that, IF they can survive against Wichita State and get to the second weekend, will be dangerous (the 2014 Kentucky team is among their comparables).

And if you were curious, I didn’t include Wichita State, but their comps were at 1.5 despite the disadvantaged seeding. Their defensive numbers are incredible; the offense inconsistent.