Category Archives: Editorial

Choosing a National Champion… with analytics

Once the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket was released on Sunday, millions of people made their picks. Some made their picks based on their fan allegiance, some by choosing high seeds, others by picking upsets but did any of you look at the hidden figures?

For example, did you know over the past 20 years, 14 of the 20 champions have been one seeds? Or that only once in the last 20 years, has a champion with just one NBA prospect won the title. What about that most head coaches (18 of the last 20) have coached at least 10 seasons before winning a ring?

DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson invented a model and took a peek at the past 20 collegiate champions to see if the numbers could tell a story and to predict a champion and Final Four contenders.

In this analysis, we first sought to look at a college basketball team as a whole: offensive production, defensive production, impact of a head coach, scheduling impact, seed impact and the importance of talent (future NBA prospects).

As you can see by our rows (spreadsheet attached at the bottom), we measured these figures with points scored, points against, players experience, seeds that won the championship and future pros.

We found that a typical championship team over the past 20 years fits a certain profile:

  1. Usually a 1 seed
  2. An experienced head coach (coached 10 seasons before a title)
  3. A roster that has on average 1.65 years of exp.
  4. Around 4-5 future NBA players (players that play at least one game in the NBA)
  5. 4 players that average double figures
  6. Plays about a top 15 strength of schedule
  7. Is either top 50 nationally in points scored OR top 50 in points against… interestingly enough, rarely is a team dominant in both areas. The 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats and 2006-2007 Florida Gators were the only teams to rank top 25 in both and win a title.

Based on this criteria, here’s how the top seeds fared. (Note: red- means a team failed to meet a metric.)

Gonzaga

  1. A 1 seed
  2. Experience coach- Mark Few
  3. Roster has 1.6 years of exp. (just barely missed the cutoff)
  4. Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Andrew Nembhard could play at the next level
  5. Exactly 4 players that averaged double figures
  6. 107 in SOS
  7. No. 1 in points scored per game

Michigan

  1. A 1 seed
  2. First year head coach in Juwan Howard
  3. Roster has 2.2 years of exp.
  4. Hunter Dickinson, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers could be future pros but after that do you think Eli Brooks and Mike Smith can make it as undersized guards?
  5. 3 players averaging double figures
  6. 12th in SOS
  7. Doesn’t rank in the top 50 in points scored or points against

Baylor

  1. A 1 seed
  2. Experience coach- Scott Drew
  3. Roster has 1.9 years of exp.
  4. Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua could become pros
  5. 3 players averaging double figures
  6. 87th in SOS
  7. Ranks 3rd in points scored per game

Illinois

  1. A 1 seed
  2. Brad Underwood has only been a head coach since 2013
  3. Roster has 1.6 years of exp.
  4. Kofi Cockburn, Ayo Dosunmu and possibly Adam Miller could become future pros but I struggle to see a fourth
  5. 3 players averaging double figures
  6. 9th in SOS
  7. Ranked 15th in points scored per game

By our criteria, Gonzaga and Baylor would be the favorite to win the title with five of the seven boxes checked. Again, Gonzaga was a fraction away from checking six of the seven boxes and remember they defeated Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa in the non conference but their conference hurt their overall SOS.

Interestingly enough though, West Virginia was a sleeper team we found. The Mountaineers have a veteran head coach in Bob Huggins, a trio of guards and Derek Culver, who not only average double figures but could crack a NBA roster and rank in the top 25 in SOS. As well as top 50 in points scored per game and a roster that returned 73 percent of last year’s production.

It’s important to remember that SOS is a skewed stat toward the Big Ten conference since the league was so dominant in 2020-2021, claiming 9 total tournament spots. And don’t forget outliers like the 2013-2014, UCONN Huskies can happen. However, do any of the teams have guards like Shabazz Napier or Kemba Walker that can take over the tournament? Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham can. If not, our metric says Gonzaga, West Virginia and Baylor are solid bets. While the East and Midwest region could claim a Cinderella spot.

WinnersConf.CoachesSeedPlayer yrs. of exp.NBA playersPlayers that avg. 10+ PPGPPG (rank)P-Against-PG (rank)SOS
VirginiaACCTony Bennett1- South1.633210123
VillanovaBig EastJay Wright1- East1.656111410
UNCACCRoy Williams1- South1.944121297
VillanovaBig EastJay Wright2- South1.746571517
DukeACCMike Krzyzewski1- South1.18461116
UCONNBig EastKevin Ollie7- East2131436314
LouisvilleBig EastRick Pitino1- Midwest1.742292110
KentuckySECJohn Calipari1- South0.875152518
UCONNBig EastJim Calhoun3- West0.93275846
DukeACCMike Krzyzewski1- South27328289
UNCACCRoy Williams1- South275228518
KansasBig 12Bill Self1- Midwest274132113
FloridaSECBilly Donovan1- Midwest1.965114338
FloridaSECBilly Donovan3- Midwest1.255225164
UNCACCRoy Williams1- Syracuse26512183
UCONNBig EastJim Calhoun2- Phoenix1.563175625
SyracuseBig EastJim Boeheim3- East1241416617
UMDACCGary Williams1- East2.244517614
DukeACCMike Krzyzewski1- East1.75521495
MSUBig TenTom Izzo1- Midwest2.2449089

Did the numbers get it right? A follow up to “Choosing a National Champion With Analytics”

Last month, DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson presented a model, which was supposed to be a guide to choosing a champion in the NCAA Tournament, by way of studying the past 15 title winners.

Well, what did the numbers tell us?

First let’s revisit yesterday’s final score. Baylor led the entire game against Gonzaga in the National Championship, en route to a 86-70 victory.

Remember, we identified seven metrics that on average defined collegiate basketball champions and in the story, Baylor and Gonzaga were our top two choices because they fit 5/7 of the data points.

  1. Usually a 1 seed
  2. An experienced head coach (coached 10 seasons before a title)
  3. A roster that has on average 1.65 years of exp.
  4. Around 4-5 future NBA players (players that play at least one game in the NBA)
  5. 4 players that average double figures
  6. Plays about a top 15 strength of schedule
  7. Is either top 50 nationally in points scored OR top 50 in points against… interestingly enough, rarely is a team dominant in both areas. The 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats and 2006-2007 Florida Gators were the only teams to rank top 25 in both and win a title.

Another stat that stood out that wasn’t included in our model, was the importance of having a McDonald’s All American. Baylor became just the third champion to not have at least one McDonald’s All American (2014- UCONN and 2002- UMD).

We did state previously though that some teams in the past have had magical runs because of stellar guard play like those UCONN Huskies that were led by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright or those Terps that had future pros: Juan Dixon and Steve Blake.

Well, 2021 was no different, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang and Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim also led their teams on magical runs after coming into the tournament as double digit seeds. Our model also did indicate that the Midwest and East regions could claim a Cinderella run because the two regions lacked a formidable one seed (both Illinois and Michigan failed to reach the Final Four).

Did the model hold true for the women’s champion?

On the women’s side, Stanford defeated Arizona, 54-53. Let’s see how they stacked up against the model.

Stanford Cardinal

  1. A 1 seed in the “Alamo Region”
  2. Head coach Tara VanDerveer has coached the team since 1996
  3. Roster featured 7 upperclass players and sophomore standouts like Haley Jones and Francesca Belibi
  4. Kiana Williams, Jones and Cameron Brink are pro ready. Belibi, Lexie Hull and Anna Wilson could also play at the next level.
  5. 3 players averaged double figures and Brink averaged 9.9
  6. Had a top 5 SOS
  7. The Cardinal also ranked 14th overall in scoring offense and 8th overall in scoring defense

Interestingly enough, the Stanford Cardinal fit the model like a glove and just missed checking every box by one tenth of a point (LITERALLY)! Despite, winning by the slimmest of margins, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the women took home the championship, their school’s first since 1992.

Why are blue blood college basketball programs struggling?

A blue blood is someone who is wealthy and powerful. In terms of college basketball, the phrase describes programs that have consistently produced postseason success, won championships and sent players to the NBA.

However, blue blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have suffered through varying degrees of struggles during the 2020-2021 season. 

What has caused this decline? The answer is multi-layered.

The number one problem could be the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused not only games to be postponed, but has had lasting effects on players who test positive. 

Former Duke star Jayson Tatum said he has struggled to breathe since returning to the floor after a bout with COVID. On the gridiron, Myles Garrett expressed similar sentiments. 

When it comes to tangible statistics, consider Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic, who tested positive for COVID in January and since returning has scored a total of four points after leading the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage. 

“I’ve talked to Mike (Krzyzewski), Roy (Williams) and all the guys I’m on the (NCAAB) committee with and a lot of people are talking about the exact same things and I don’t think you can appreciate it unless you have kids going through a tough time with the COVID,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo told local reporters during his weekly press conference on Feb. 18. “They always say mental health, it’s hard to handle yourself mentally with all the things that have been thrown at them this year (with the pandemic) so then you lose a little bit and it gets exacerbated. There’s no question about it.”

UNC sits at 13-7 while Kentucky, Duke and MSU (¾ of the Champions Classic) combine for a 26-29 record. A far cry from when these three teams were in the Final Four six seasons ago. 

But is COVID the sole reason behind the struggles? No, fans can also easily forget the importance of offseason practices, preseason exhibition games and the camaraderie of being in a team setting… all of which has been stripped away in the world of social distancing. 

Another interesting note is that the three blue bloods mentioned above rely heavily on either freshman or players that didn’t play over the past few seasons. Duke and Kentucky have gone the “one and done” recruiting route but their players never got a chance to assimilate into college basketball action before the season started.

Duke, Kentucky and MSU have also all used freshmen guards like A.J. Hoggard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Jeremy Roach to lead their teams. 

Conversely, the teams that lead the ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been able to rely on upperclassmen talent at the guard positions. Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Alabama’s John Petty Jr. and UVA’s Kihei Clark have all had big impacts. 

With that being said, how many years have teams like Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, UVA and Iowa finished above the blue bloods in the standings and in the AP Top 10? Not only are the blue bloods struggling, but teams who haven’t enjoyed the same level of consistency over the past 20 years are now having all-time seasons.  

We talked about the lack of offseason, COVID-19, the importance of veteran guards and the emergence of new conference threats but should the blue bloods be worried long term? Probably not.

Longevity means something. Duke and MSU have made the NCAA tournament 24 and 22 consecutive years, respectively. That doesn’t happen by accident. John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats followed up missing the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a championship appearance in 2014, after winning the championship in 2012.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari (pictured sitting in the team huddle) talks to his team during the 2013-2014 season. Just a season prior, his team missed the tournament. Will the Wildcats make a similar turnaround next year?

In statistics, we would call the 2020-2021 season an outlier for the blue bloods so if you’re a fan of those teams… don’t worry it will probably get better and if you aren’t… enjoy the misery of some of college basketball’s elites. 

Deal or No Beal?

Like most in the NBA, every team dreams of having a dynamic duo like Pippen and Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, or James and Davis. After another disappointing season in 2019-20, the Washington Wizards decided to try and stir up a dynamic duo of their own with newly-traded Russell Westbrook and returning All-Star Bradley Beal.

Excited by the potential combination, in an interview Beal commented, “I definitely think he [Westbrook] will propel me to a new level that I haven’t tapped into yet. I’m definitely excited about it (Chase).” However, the experiment currently boiling in DC has so far shown early signs of failure. Currently sitting at 2-6, the Wizards win just once for every four contests. The team’s projected 18-54 record would be worse than their 25-47 mark from a season ago.

To make matters worse, the expected dynamic duo’s stands at just 1-5, as Westbrook did not contribute to the win against the Timberwolves; which leaves most spectators wondering if the All-Star combination is creating more damage than good. Last season, Westbrook finished with a career-high 47.2% field goal percentage , and this season his average has decreased to 39.5% (Russell Westbrook Stats). On the other hand, Beal shot 45.5% from the field in 2019-20, which has increased slightly to 47.9% this season, although it is an average he has held before (Bradley Beal Stats).

Washington Wizards G Russell Westbrook
Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook, pictured in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, is projected to miss nearly a month with a quadriceps injury. He was also sidelined in the 2020 NBA Playoffs with a quadriceps injury.

Beyond the numbers, what the statistics fail to present spectators with is the lack of time (a period of only nine days before preseason) that the All-Stars have had to click. While some might argue that Westbrook and Beal are not the type of guards who can share a court, when speaking about constructive criticism from Westbrook, Beal said, “I’m a constructive criticism guy. I can take it. I love when guys get on my head, tell me to play better, tell me to go. Light a fire, fuel up under me; I like that (Chase).”

The Wizards, led by Bradley Beal’s league-best 34.9 points per game, currently rank second in the NBA in scoring (120.5) and are second-worst in points allowed (121.3).

For now, the lack of time might be enough to justify why the experiment has failed thus far. Just as it takes time to practice perfecting free throws and fadeaways, it takes time to practice gelling with a new team. Even though both players have talked about their powerful potential, everyone knows that actions speak louder than words, and the window of using time as an excuse is quickly running out. These two players must learn how to boost each others’ strengths and shield each others’ weaknesses or else the public will eventually have valid reasons to declare the experiment as unsuccessful.

And with Beal’s two-year max extension coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign, an unsuccessful partnership may provide an answer to the original question of Deal or No Beal.

No Beal.

EDITOR’s UPDATE: Following the team’s 128-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on January 11, 2021, the Wizards announced five positive COVID-19 tests and postponed the next four games.

Works Cited

  1. Chase Hughes. “Beal Says Westbrook Will Take His Game up a Level.” RSN , 15 Dec. 2020,
    www.nbcsports.com/washington/wizards/bradley-beal-says-russell-westbrook-will-take-h
    is-game-level.
  2. “Russell Westbrook Stats.” ESPN , ESPN Internet Ventures,
    www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/3468/russell-westbrook.
  3. “Bradley Beal Stats, News, Bio.” ESPN , ESPN Internet Ventures,
    www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/6580/bradley-beal.