By the Numbers: Who Will Win the NCAA Tournament?

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By the Numbers: Who Will Win the NCAA Tournament?

Numbers never lie.  I guess we’ll see: 

Let’s start simple.  Who has won the most titles?  Well, that one should be easy.  Most average college basketball fans will know that UCLA has the most titles with 11. 

However, who is next on that illustrious list?  That would be Kentucky with seven, then Indiana with five.  Those two teams blew their chances with an inconsistent season for the former and a “misremembering” coach for the latter.  (Sorry, Coach Sampson – you were loved at Oklahoma, but it’s time to own up and stop “not recollecting” certain things…). 

North Carolina comes into the picture at number four.  They have cut down the nets four times.  Kansas has been crowned champion twice, and Memphis has never ended a tournament run with a victory.  However, they did get close in 1973, when they lost to UCLA by a mere 21 points in the Championship game. 

Of the four remaining teams, UCLA has the most tournament wins: 

  • UCLA, 94 wins
  • North Carolina, 92
  • Kansas, 76
  • Memphis, 25 

Therefore, UCLA will be the champion.  Hmm…picking UCLA to win based on those facts does seem like a sort of weak argument. Let’s go deeper. 

There are often factors pulled out from box scores that tell the story of a title game or a Final Four game.  Based on some trend analysis, the following four factors have repeatedly come up as key elements for the winning team: Scoring, rebounding, free throw percentage and turnovers.  These are 2007-08 regular season statistics: 

Of the four remaining teams, North Carolina has the best scoring average: 

  • UNC, 88.7 ppg
  • KU, 81.5 (-8.8%)
  • Memphis, 79.7 (-9.3%)
  • UCLA, 74.1 (-19.7%) 

Rebounding should have something to do with determining a winner don’t you think?  Again, North Carolina has quite an edge: 

  • UNC, 44.2 rpg
  • Memphis, 40.8 (-8.3%)
  • KU, 38.9 (-13.6%)
  • UCLA, 36.7 (-20.4) 

The ever important free throw percentage has decided many titles over the years.  Once again, North Carolina leads the way: 

  • UNC, 75.4 FT%
  • UCLA, 73.1 (-3.1%)
  • KU, 69.6 (-8.3%)
  • Memphis, 60.7 (-24.2%) 

Turnovers in a championship game haven’t meant much in recent years.  Three of the last four champs have actually lost the turnover battle in the title game.  Maybe this year will be different?  That’s yet to be seen.  However, common sense would tell us that turnovers do make a difference.  In that case, Memphis has the honor here:  

  • Memphis, 12.2 turnovers per game
  • UCLA, 12.4 (-1.6%)
  • KU, 12.9 (-5.4%)
  • UNC, 14.7 (-17.0%) 

To round out this analysis, it would be a good idea to look at not only the regular season statistics, but also some more recent action.  How about the tournament itself?  Let’s go deeper: 

Scoring: 

  • UNC, 93.0 ppg
  • Memphis, 85.2 (-9.2%)
  • KU, 72.8 (-27.7%)
  • UCLA, 71.2 (-30.6%) 

Rebounds: 

  • Memphis, 44.8 rpg
  • UCLA, 44.5 (-0.7%)
  • UNC, 44.2 (-1.4%)
  • KU, 40.0 (-12.0%) 

Free throws: 

  • UNC, 76.8 FT%
  • UCLA, 72.0 (-6.67%)
  • Memphis, 67.4 (-13.9%)
  • KU, 63.2 (-21.5%) 

Turnovers: 

  • Memphis, 8.2 turnovers per game
  • UNC, 10.8 (-24.1%)
  • KU, 13.2 (-37.9%)
  • UCLA, 14.8 (-44.6%) 

When comparing their regular season stats to their tournament stats, there is an alarming trend.  Of the four areas outlined here—Scoring, Rebounding, Free Throw Percentage, and Turnovers per Game, UNC and Memphis have either improved or stayed the same in every category. 

UCLA and KU have gotten WORSE in three of the four categories.  The only area that UCLA and KU have improved in is rebounding, which is hardly a shock considering these two schools will almost always recruit better and taller athletes compared to their early tournament opponents (Portland State, Mississippi Valley State, Western Kentucky, UNLV). 

Putting a weight factor into these four areas for the regular season and for the tournament clears things up a little.  Consider placing a value of four points for being the highest rated team in a given category on down to three, two, and one point:   

Regular Season tally: 

  • UNC, 13 points
  • Memphis, 10
  • KU, 9
  • UCLA, 8 

NCAA Tournament tally: 

  • UNC, 13 points
  • Memphis, 13
  • UCLA, 8
  • KU, 6 

Finally, let’s summarize. 

UNC was clearly the best statistical team in the regular season and have hardly let up during the first four games of the tournament.  Memphis also did very well during the regular season, but have clearly stepped up in their four games played.   

Remember, this is only comparing these four teams.  Obviously, UCLA and KU have had remarkable seasons and been very successful in getting to the Final Four. 

However, compared to UNC and Memphis, they simply don’t make the cut.  Not from the regular season perspective, nor from the tournament itself. 

There are several more points to support UNC and Memphis meeting in the title game.  In the season’s final RPI rankings, these two teams are ahead of UCLA and KU.  In the final AP Poll, UNC and Memphis were noticeably ahead of UCLA and KU in both first place votes and total points. 

UNC and Memphis had two and one loss respectively.  The other two schools had three a piece.  Against top 50 RPI schools, UNC and Memphis had one loss each, while UCLA and KU had two each. 

Somehow, the being that is The Bracket, pits UNC against KU and Memphis against UCLA.  This wonderfully worked out in favor of The Numbers.   

UNC should blast past KU (90 – 75), while Memphis should win against UCLA in a tough battle decided by just a few points (79 – 73).  UNC would then win the title against Memphis (88 – 78). 

The Numbers have spoken.  Now let’s play the games… 

* SOURCES:  ESPN, CBS Sportsline, Yahoo! Sports  

 

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