NCAAM: KenPom Rankings and National Champions Go Hand In Hand

February is coming to an end, which means it’s almost time for the biggest event in College Basketball. That event of course, is the NCAA Tournament, aka “March Madness”, aka “The Big Dance”. This tournament brings out even your casual college basketball fans to fill out their own brackets to predict a winner. Whether that be in a family/friends pool, or on ESPN/Yahoo etc., The unpredictability is the most exciting part of this tournament.

I mean, just in the past few years we’ve seen how unpredictable it can be in the rarest form. Back in 2018, 16 seeded UMBC upset 1 seeded University of Virginia in the first round. Making it the first time in 136 games that the underdog won that matchup. You have a better percentage chance of surviving a lightning strike (90%) than 16 seeds have had all-time at beating a 1 seed (0.47%).

KenPom= CBB’s version of MLB’s MoneyBall

While it’s all left up to chance, there is one method of picking a winner that has a pretty good track record: Using KenPom rankings. KenPom rankings were created in 2002 by columnist Ken Pomeroy. Pomeroy’s rankings are based off of team’s offensive and defensive efficiency per 100 possessions, along with other factors. But the offense and defense efficiency are the main pieces of the ranking(s). Teams are placed is decided by their net rating (both efficiencies together). As the heading states, KenPom rankings are similar to what Bill James created for the MLB coined as “MoneyBall”.

The lowest an eventual Champion has been ranked overall was 73rd. That was UConn in 2014. Other than that, every winner in the past 20 years has been top 10 overall. From 2016-2019, 3 out of the 4 champions were ranked #1 in KenPom (Virginia, and ‘Nova 2x). 2017 champ UNC was ranked #3.

18 out of the last 20 National Champions have ranked top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in KenPom at the end of the regular season. Only one team at this point in the season holds true to that criteria. That is the current #1 team in the country, Houston.

To give a little more room for possibilities, 14 of the past 20 national champions, have finished in the top 15 for both offensive and defensive efficiency. Only three teams, at this point in the season, meet that criteria. Those teams are: Houston, Alabama, and reigning champ Kansas.

Will KenPom’s History Stay The Course?

As mentioned before, Houston, Alabama, and Kansas are the only three teams in the top 15 of both offensive and defensive KenPom rankings. All three of them, also have a very good chance at getting a #1 seed in the tournament. As they are all currently ranked in the AP Top 25 one after the other. Houston is #1, Alabama is #2 and Kansas is #3.

So, they should all easily get 3 out of the 4 #1 seed spots. Unless one or all of them, loses each of the last few games they have left in the regular season. With these teams track records this season, there’s a pretty good shot they all make a solid deep run in the tournament. While this year has been so unpredictable with so many upsets. These 3 teams have stayed consistent for the most part, and done more than solid jobs even in their losses.

I, myself, think that either Houston or Alabama will be in the final game. If not both depending on what region they get put into. I also think that it’s just not in the cards for a reigning champ. So for KenPom to reign supreme again, Houston or Alabama needs to win it all. They both have the athleticism, the talent and the coaching to make it to Houston. Which one will be cutting down the nets? That I haven’t decided on yet, I think of Houston and ‘Bama as 1A and 1B right now.

But what I do know, is from here on out, I will keep a closer watch on the KenPom rankings before I fill out my bracket for years to come. And you should too.



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