Indiana cannot win the NCAA basketball tournament this season.
And, it’s highly improbable that they will make the Final Four, despite the lofty predictions and expectations by the experts and their fans. I say this from the historical statistical standpoint, in a recent study of the last ten Final Fours, and not because I do not like IU basketball.
For the record, I do NOT like IU basketball.
Of course, one can always argue that the NCAA Basketball tournament is played on the court, and not on paper.
To be sure, in some years strange anomalies have occurred; like 2011’s Final Four which included two Cinderella teams in Virginia Commonwealth and Butler University, not to mention University of Kentucky and U Conn teams, who only a few had expected to make it to the Final Four.
The reasons for what happened in 2011 are as varied as there are reasons for today’s milder weather; why certain teams "survived and advanced" and others were thwarted in that lofty pursuit. Occasionally a team elevates its play offensively, or otherwise it just can’t "buy a basket" when it normally shoots the ball at a high percentage.
Rarely, if ever though, has a team suddenly begun to play defense when it hadn’t done so before.
Pairings were vital in 2011, and a stronger Kentucky team drew a much higher (worse) seed than it deserved, while its rival Florida undeservedly benefited from the selection committees mistake. That drama played itself out later when Kentucky, a much better team and closer match than should have been expected, beat the number one seed Ohio State, thereby penalizing the Buckeyes for the selection committee’s faulty judgment. And then, adding further insult to their blunder, Florida was taken out by Butler University, sending that unlikely team to its second straight Final Four.
The other Cinderella, Virginia Commonwealth, benefited from perhaps tournament history’s most horrifying "gag" job, when it beat another number one seed in Kansas, after all of the other one seeds had been eliminated. Kansas appeared to have the tourney "by the balls", but not for one pesky bit of unfinished business; nobody had told Shaka Smart that he was "supposed" to lose. Kansas fell flat as a homemade prarie jam cake, while Smart and Company mopped the floor with Kansas’ lost confidence and VCU’s timely three point shooting.
And though 2011’s Final Four may appear strange, it still isn’t as strange as Indiana making this year’s Final Four. Why?
I compared statistics (using KenPom.com) from the last 10 Final Fours to reach this obvious conclusion. I looked at how each Final Four team was ranked in Adjusted Offense and Adjusted Defense to make my observation/prediction about IU.
Of course, it stands to reason that offense is a less reliable barometer for a team’s success than its Defense over the course of an entire season. Even at season’s end, a great shooting team can go cold or a poor one can get red hot. For this reason Offensive efficiency in Final Four teams sees wildly fluctuating numbers, while defensive efficiency over the course of the season is less likely to fluctuate in the tournament, and as such Final Four representative team numbers do not show similarly wild fluctuations.
For example, rarely in the last 10 years are Final Four teams ranked outside of the top 20 in Defensive efficiency (of 40 potential teams, only 7 have been). In 2011 two teams were (Virginia Commonwealth- 86th, Butler-49th) and 2003 two teams were (Texas-44th, Marquette-101st). That leaves 8 other years (32 potential) where only 3 teams were ranked outside the top 20 in Defensive efficiency (2010, West Virginia- 22nd, Michigan State- 30th) and (2005, Michigan State- 25th). Only twice in the past 10 years has ANY Final Four team been ranked as low as Indiana was in 2012 (64th) in Defensive efficiency… the 2003 Marquette Warriors featuring Dwayne Wade and VCU in 2011.
NO WINNING TEAM IN THE LAST TEN YEARS HAS RANKED NEAR INDIANA’S LAST YEAR RANKING OF 64TH. The worst ranking was in 2003, when Syracuse ranked 19th in Defensive efficiency. Remember, Indiana was ranked 64th. Most years, the winning team was ranked in the top ten (in 6 of 10 years) in defensive efficiency. The others were UConn- 2011 (14th), UNC- 2009 (16th) and Florida- 2007 (12th).
Indiana was ranked 64th last year!
Of course, the season has yet to begin, so isn’t it difficult to predict? Perhaps, but isn’t Defense less a matter of individual skills and more a matter of quickness, tenacity, fortitude, and coaching? Can Indiana’s players become quicker, faster? Is Tom Crean changing his habit of not teaching defense or changing it up altogether? Or is it more likely that if they do improve defensively, it will only be slightly?
These statistics show that for IU to win the National Championship a) this year it will have to be a far different year than any other, or b) they will need to have improved their defense immeasurably. Knowing what I think I know about the game of basketball, neither of these scenarios are likely.
Interestingly, Louisville was ranked number 1 in defensive efficiency at the end of last season. Is 2013 The Year of the Cardinal? Perhaps.