Makinen: Shared statistical traits of NCAA tournament upset, Cinderella, Final Four and Championship teams

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Selection Sunday presents 68 deserving teams the opportunity to begin their quest for college basketball’s most prestigious team honor, an NCAA tournament championship. For many of the teams it is simply an honor to see their name called when the brackets are revealed, and winning a game or two would only be icing on the cake. For others, however, the goal is a national title, or at least a Final Four berth, and nothing shy of that will do. Of course, there are a bunch of teams that will finish somewhere in between the extremes. What separates these teams? Which of this year’s bunch is best set up to make a title run?

 

>>LINK TO CHARTS THAT ACCOMPANY THIS STORY

What I will be looking at are the shared statistical characteristics of Upset Victims, Cinderellas, Final Four, and Champion teams dating back to 2013, or the last nine tournament seasons. I’ve selected 12 different key statistical categories and four of my own personal Strength Indicators, plus a Combined Average Ranking, and charted the recent qualifying teams by their performances in these categories:

Steve Makinen’s Power Rating

Opponent Power Rating (Schedule Strength)

Offensive Points per Game

Defensive Points per Game

Steve Makinen’s Effective Strength Indicator

Steve Makinen’s Bettors’ Rating

Steve Makinen’s Momentum Ratings

Effective Offensive Points per Possession

Effective Defensive Points per Possession

Offensive Field Goal %

Offensive 3PT Field Goal %

Rebounding Percentage

Assist to Turnover Ratio

Offensive Turnovers per Possession

Defensive Turnovers per Possession

Defensive Field Goal %

Combined Average Ranking

After determining the national season ranks for all the Division 1 teams, I pulled all of the Upset Victims, Cinderellas, Final Four, and Champion teams from the nine tournaments for special analysis. For each stat category, I look for minimum performance, typical national ranking, and the percentile of teams that qualify within certain ranges. As a final exclamation point on the analysis, I take a Combined National Ranking of the 15 sortable categories to separate the more complete teams from the rest.

To summarize the findings, it was determined that the relationship between my Effective Strength Indicator was the most significant of all the categories analyzed. The average of the last 36 Final Four teams ranked 12.9 in the country in that rating. Among the hard-core statistical categories, Effective Offensive Points per Possession has now become the most important, with an average Final 4 team ranking of 19.1 over the last nine tournaments, 1.5 spots higher than the same rating for defense. Interestingly, the least important factor was Defensive Turnovers per Possession, or the ability to force turnovers on defense.

First though, a quick reminder of what happened last season in terms of my analysis using the combined rankings. Gonzaga, the overall #1 seed in the tournament and overall favorite, had a combined ranking of 33.4, meaning the average national ranking of the Bulldogs in all of the categories I analyze was a little over 33rd. That was second overall to Houston, with an average rating of 32.7. The Cougars were downgraded a bit in seeding however due to a key injury. Kansas meanwhile, had an overall ranking of 50.9 and went on to win the tournament, beating North Carolina, a #8 seed in the final. The Jayhawks ranked in the nation’s top 7 in my Power Ratings, schedule strength, Effective Strength, Bettors Ratings, Momentum Ratings, and offensive efficiency. This year’s KU team boasts many of the same traits, and Gonzaga, as well as Houston will be top threats again.

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Shared Traits of Upset Victim Teams

The following is a list of the traits shared by teams that would be considered ‘Upset Victims”, or those that were seeded #6 or better and lost their first-round game. In general, I used an 80th-percentile cutoff to eliminate some of the more fluky teams from recent years. These stats include only those obtained as of Selection Sunday and contain no games beyond that point, so they should be accurately reflective of those you’ll be using when picking this year’s brackets. These were the Upset Victims considered:

2013

#2’s: GEORGETOWN

#3’s: NEW MEXICO

#4’s: KANSAS ST

#5’s: OKLAHOMA ST, UNLV, WISCONSIN

#6’s: UCLA

2014

#3’s: DUKE

#5’s: CINCINNATI, OKLAHOMA, VA COMMONWEALTH

#6’s: OHIO ST, MASSACHUSETTS

2015

#3’s: IOWA ST, BAYLOR

#6’s: SMU, PROVIDENCE

2016

#2’s: MICHIGAN ST

#3’s: W VIRGINIA

#4’s: CALIFORNIA

#5’s: BAYLOR, PURDUE

#6’s: SETON HALL, ARIZONA, TEXAS

2017

#5’s: MINNESOTA

#6’s: MARYLAND, SMU, CREIGHTON

2018

#1’s: VIRGINIA

#4’s: WICHITA ST

#5’s: ARIZONA

#6’s: MIAMI, TCU

2019

#4’s: KANSAS ST

#5’s: MARQUETTE, MISSISSIPPI ST, WISCONSIN

#6’s: IOWA ST

2021

#2’s: OHIO ST

#3’s: TEXAS

#4’s: PURDUE, VIRGINIA

#5’s: TENNESSEE

#6’s: BYU, SAN DIEGO ST

2022

#2’s: KENTUCKY

#5’s: IOWA, CONNECTICUT

#6’s: ALABAMA, LSU, COLORADO ST

Of the last 52 Upset Victims seeded #6 or better, approximately 80% of them:

– Went into the tournament with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 87 or lower.

–  Finished the regular season with a Schedule Strength ranked outside the top 15 nationally.

–  Ranked outside the Top 25 in Offensive Points per Game.

–  Ranked outside the Top 15 in Defensive Points per Game.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Effective Strength Indicator Rating of 17.5 or less and/or ranked outside the Top 10 nationally.

– Had a Steve Makinen Bettors Rating of at most -15 and/or ranked outside the Top 12 nationally.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Momentum Rating outside the Top 10 nationally.

– Scored less than 1.235 Effective Points per Possession on offense and/or ranked outside the Top 10 nationally.

– Allowed more than 0.900 Effective Points per Possession on defense and/or ranked outside the Top 7 nationally.

–  Shot less than 48% from the field on the season, ranking outside the Top 15 nationally in FG%.

–  Made less than 38.5% of their 3PT attempts on the season, placing them outside the Top 30 of all teams.

–  Had a Rebounding Percentage Rate of less than 55.2% and ranked outside the Top 10 of the country.

–  Had an Assist to Turnover Ratio of less than 1.45, ranking outside the Top 12 nationally.

–  Ranked outside the country’s 20 top teams in terms of Offensive Turnovers per Possession (approx. 15%).

–  Ranked outside the country’s 40 top teams in terms of Defensive Turnovers per Possession (approx. 21%)

–  Allowed opponents higher than 39% on field goal attempts, a mark typically good enough for the Top 15 in the country.

– Had a Combined Average Ranking of 57.0 or worse in all of the analyzed stats.

Using the logic of qualifying all of this year’s 24 teams seeded #6 or better under our criteria above, here is a chart showing the number of times each team qualified for the 17 categories. Based upon our belief that the Upset Victims share characteristics, the teams at the top of the list are at the most risk of getting upset in their first-round game.

It should be noted that in the 2022 tournament, three of the five upset victims were in the top 10 listed teams on this chart, each with 14 marks or more. In the 2019 bracket, the top two potential upset victims, Marquette and Mississippi State, both lost. In 2021, six of the seven upset victims were among the top 15 listed, including Texas at the top of the chart.

Shared Traits of Cinderella Teams

The following is a list of the traits shared by teams that could be considered ‘Cinderella Teams”, or those that were seeded #7 or less and won at least two games to reach the Sweet 16. In general, I again used an 80th percentile cutoff to eliminate some of the more fluky teams from recent years. These stats include only those obtained as of Selection Sunday and contain no games beyond that point, so they should be accurately reflective of those you’ll be using when picking this year’s brackets. These were the Cinderella Teams considered:

2013 OREGON (#12)

2013 LASALLE (#13)

2013 FLA GULF COAST (#15)

2013 WICHITA ST (#9)

2014 CONNECTICUT (#7)

2014 KENTUCKY (#8)

2014 TENNESSEE (#11)

2014 DAYTON (#11)

2014 STANFORD (#10)

2015 MICHIGAN ST (#7)

2015 WICHITA ST (#7)

2015 NC STATE (#8)

2015 UCLA (#11)

2016 GONZAGA (#11)

2016 SYRACUSE (#10)

2017 S CAROLINA (#7)

2017 MICHIGAN (#7)

2017 WISCONSIN (#8)

2017 XAVIER (#11)

2018 FLORIDA ST (#9)

2018 KANSAS ST (#9)

2018 LOYOLA-IL (#11)

2018 NEVADA (#7)

2018 SYRACUSE (#11)

2018 TEXAS A&M (#7)

2019 OREGON (#12)

2021 OREGON (#7)

2021 LOYOLA-IL (#8)

2021 UCLA (#11)

2021 SYRACUSE (#11)

2021 OREGON ST (#12)

2021 ORAL ROBERTS (#15)

2022 NORTH CAROLINA (#8)

2022 MIAMI (#10)

2022 IOWA STATE (#11)

2022 MICHIGAN (#11)

2022 ST PETERS (#15)

Of the last 37 Cinderella teams seeded #7 or worse, approximately 80% of them:

– Went into the tournament with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 80.5 or better.

– Finished the regular season with a Schedule Strength ranked in the top 90 nationally.

– Ranked in the Top 185 in Offensive Points per Game, scoring over 70 PPG.

–  Ranked in the Top 170 in Defensive Points per Game, allowing less than 69 PPG.

– Had a Steve Makinen Effective Strength Indicator Rating of at least 10.0 and/or ranked in the Top 55 nationally.

– Had a Steve Makinen Bettors Rating of at least -7.5 and/or ranked in the Top 50 nationally.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Momentum Rating in the Top 90 nationally

–  Scored at least 1.120 Effective Points per Possession on offense and ranked in the Top 75 nationally.

– Allowed better than 1.010 Effective Points per Possession on defense and ranked in the Top 75 nationally.

–  Shot at least 44% from the field on the season, ranking in the Top 140 nationally in FG%.

–  Made at least 33.5% of its 3PT attempts on the season, placing them in the Top 215 of all teams.

–  Had a Rebounding Percentage Rate of at least 50% and ranked in the Top 175 of the country.

–  Had an Assist to Turnover Ratio of at least 1.075, ranking in the Top 135 nationally.

–  Ranked in the country’s 190 top teams in terms of Offensive Turnovers per Possession (approx. 18.5%).

–  Ranked in the country’s 250 top teams in terms of Defensive Turnovers per Possession (approx. 17%).

–  Allowed opponents 43.5% or less on field goal attempts, a mark typically good enough for the Top 160 in the country.

–  Had a Combined Average Ranking of 105.0 or better in all of our analyzed stats.

Using the logic of qualifying all of this year’s 44 teams seeded #7 or worse under our criteria above, here is a chart showing the number of times each team qualified for the 17 categories. Based upon our belief that the Cinderella teams share quality characteristics, the teams at the top of the list are most prepared to make an exciting tournament run.

In 2021, of the six eventual Cinderellas, Oregon & Loyola-IL ranked tied for the most marks on the chart, with 16. Two others, Syracuse (14 marks) and UCLA (13 marks), also showed good potential to pull upsets. UCLA of course went on to the Final Four in the end. Last year, Michigan & North Carolina each scored 14 marks, tying for fourth on the chart. Incidentally, #12 seed Indiana scored a perfect 17 marks but was routed 82-53 by St Mary’s. Ultimate Cinderella St. Peter’s recorded six marks and reached the Elite 8.

Shared Traits of Final Four Teams

The following is a list of the traits shared by teams that eventually reached the Final Four. Again, I used about an 80th-percentile cutoff to eliminate unusual teams from recent years. These were the last 36 Final Four teams:

2013 SYRACUSE (#4)

2013 LOUISVILLE (#1)

2013 MICHIGAN (#4)

2013 WICHITA ST (#9)

2014 WISCONSIN (#2)

2014 FLORIDA (#1)

2014 KENTUCKY (#8)

2014 CONNECTICUT (#7)

2015 KENTUCKY (#1)

2015 DUKE (#1)

2015 WISCONSIN (#1)

2015 MICHIGAN ST (#7)

2016 OKLAHOMA (#2)

2016 N CAROLINA (#1)

2016 VILLANOVA (#2)

2016 SYRACUSE (#10)

2017 N CAROLINA (#1)

2017 GONZAGA (#1)

2017 OREGON (#3)

2017 S CAROLINA (#7)

2018 LOYOLA-IL (#11)

2018 KANSAS (#1)

2018 MICHIGAN (#3)

2018 VILLANOVA (#1)

2019 VIRGINIA (#1)

2019 MICHIGAN ST (#2)

2019 TEXAS TECH (#3)

2019 AUBURN (#5)

2021 GONZAGA (#1)

2021 BAYLOR (#1)

2021 HOUSTON (#2)

2021 UCLA (#11)

2022 KANSAS (#1)

2022 DUKE (#2)

2022 VILLANOVA (#2)

2022 NORTH CAROLINA (#8)

Of the last 36 Final Four teams, approximately 80% of them:

–  Went into the tournament with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 86 or higher.

–  Finished the regular season with a Schedule Strength ranked in the top 60 nationally.

–  Ranked in the Top 130 in Offensive Points Per Game, scoring about 72.0 PPG or more.

–  Ranked in the Top 125 in Defensive Points Per Game, allowing about 69.5 PPG or less.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Effective Strength Indicator Rating of at least 17.0 and ranked in the Top 18 nationally.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Bettors Rating of at least -12.5 and ranked in the Top 19 nationally.

–  Had a Steve Makinen Momentum Rating ranked in the Top 25 nationally.

–  Scored at least 1.180 Effective Points per Possession on offense and ranked in the Top 25 nationally.

– Allowed better than 0.970 Effective Points per Possession on defense and ranked in the Top 30 nationally.

–  Shot better than 44.5% from the field on the season, ranking in the Top 110 nationally in FG%.

–  Made at least 34% of its 3PT attempts on the season, placing them in the Top 160 of all teams.

–  Had a Rebounding Percentage Rate of at least 51% and ranked in the Top 120 of the country.

–   Had an Assist to Turnover Ratio of at least 1.125, ranking in the Top 90 nationally.

–  Ranked in the country’s 150 top teams in terms of Offensive Turnovers per Possession.

–  Ranked in the country’s 235 top teams in terms of Defensive Turnovers per Possession.

–  Allowed opponents 42.2% or less on field goal attempts, a mark typically good enough for the Top 115 in the country.

–  Had a Combined Average Ranking of 70.0 or better in all of our analyzed stats.

Using the logic of qualifying all of this year’s 68 teams under our criteria above, here is a chart showing the number of times each team qualified for the 17 categories. Based upon our belief that the Final Four teams share quality characteristics, the teams at the top of the list are most prepared to make a deep tournament run to New Orleans.

The 2021 Final Four group of Gonzaga, Baylor, and Houston all finished in the top 6 on this chart, each with at least 14 marks. UCLA was an obvious surprise as a #11 seed and had eight marks. Last year, Villanova tied for first with 16 marks, while Kansas had 15. Duke was 14th with 12 marks, while UNC scored in the upper half of teams with eight.

Shared Traits of Tournament Champions

Recent years of tournament action have shown that there is a big difference between reaching the Final Four and winning the title. Typically, only the truly elite teams accomplish the latter. Here’s a look at the minimum requirements for winning a tournament championship over the last nine seasons. Just to jog your memory, these are the eight champions during that time span:

2013 LOUISVILLE (#1)

2014 CONNECTICUT (#7)

2015 DUKE (#1)

2016 VILLANOVA (#2)

2017 N CAROLINA (#1)

2018 VILLANOVA (#1)

2019 VIRGINIA (#1)

2021 BAYLOR (#1)

2022 KANSAS (#1)

Looking for clear separations in the teams’ stats/ranks, of the last nine NCAA Champions:

–  Eight of them went into the tournament with a Steve Makinen Power Rating of 89 or higher.

–  Eight of them finished the regular season with a Schedule Strength ranked in the top 45 nationally.

–  Seven of them ranked in the Top 55 in Offensive Points per Game and scored at least 72 PPG.

–  Six of them ranked in the Top 115 in Defensive Points per Game or allowed less than 70 PPG.

–  Eight of them had a Steve Makinen Effective Strength Indicator Rating of at least 18.5 and ranked in the Top 7 nationally.

–  Eight of them had a Steve Makinen Bettors Rating of at least -15.5 and ranked in the Top 7 nationally.

–  Eight of them had a Steve Makinen Momentum Rating ranked in the Top 8 nationally

–  Eight of them scored at least 1.185 Effective Points per Possession on offense and ranked in the Top 18 nationally.

–  Seven of them allowed better than 0.955 Effective Points per Possession on defense and ranked in the Top 15 nationally.

–  Seven of them shot at least 46.8% from the field on the season, ranking in the Top 45 nationally in FG%.

–  Seven of them made at least 35.5% of its 3PT attempts on the season, placing them in the Top 95 of all teams.

–  Seven of them had a Rebounding Percentage Rate of at least 52% and ranked in the Top 65 of the country.

–  Eight of them had an Assist to Turnover Ratio of at least 1.185, ranking in the Top 55 nationally.

–  Seven of them ranked in the country’s 100 top teams in terms of Offensive Turnovers per Possession.

–  Eight of them ranked in the country’s 190 top teams in terms of Defensive Turnovers per Possession.

–  Seven of them allowed opponents 42.0% or less on field goal attempts, a mark typically good enough for the Top 75 in the country.

–  Eight of them had a Combined Average Ranking of 51.0 or better in all of our analyzed stats.

Looking at each of these key categories and every team’s standing as of Sunday (3/12), here is a chart showing the teams most ready for a title run in 2023.

Virginia, the 2019 champion, and a popular pick of many experts such as yours truly, ranked second of the 68 tournament teams with 15 qualifying marks on this chart. Baylor of 2021 ranked 3rd with 13 marks. Only Michigan and Gonzaga were better. In 2022, Kansas ranked behind six other teams in championship “worthiness” with 11 marks. No team above the Jayhawks even reached the Final Four.

Despite that last anomaly on Kansas as a bit of a surprise champ, last year proved once again that it’s a fairly safe bet to say that the eventual Upset Victims, Cinderella’s, Final Four teams and 2023 Champion will be found amongst the top of these respective lists.

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As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.