Overrated Teams That Could Miss the 2016 NCAA Tournament
There's no way this draws animosity from anyone.
I'm excited for the kind of honest, level-headed discourse that can only come from pointing to a bunch of college basketball teams and calling them overrated.
No offense, though.
Or, maybe, offense! I don't know. What I do know is that the following teams are on the radar (either the bubble or the bracket proper) for that little tournament in March, but trends indicate they may not end up that way.
There are various reasons for these trends and their attendant suspicions, which are outlined in the following slides. Teams are ranked based on the egregiousness of their overratedness, to the extent that's an actual thing.
Also keep in mind that this is not a list of every overrated team. It's just those that are in the tourney mix today but could conceivably miss out on Selection Sunday. So breathe easy, Kentucky fans.
Current tourney projection: "Next Out"
RPI ranking: 111
It almost feels unfair to label the UNLV Rebels overrated. Are they even rated? It's not even mid-January, and they're already dangling from the bubble by the skin of their teeth.
But bubbly they remain and so here they are, at least for the moment. Even so, those wins over Indiana and Oregon seem like ancient history compared to their current streak, during which they've dropped four of five, including two straight, most recently to Colorado State.
Part of the explanation lies in something any good Sin City fan can appreciate. UNLV is a dismal 334th nationally in luck rating, per KenPom. It has come up short in some awfully close games.
But as you can see by the Rebels' RPI, these losses aren't coming against the stiffest of competitors, and their adjusted offense is only 221st in KenPom's national ranking. Blue-chip freshman center Stephen Zimmerman may be the biggest disappointment, plodding along with a measly 9.5 points per contest.
Not what you're looking for in a team slated by multiple outlets before the season began to finish third in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV is currently second to last. Thanks for the cushioned landing, San Jose State.
4. Northern Iowa
Current tourney projection: "Next Out"
RPI ranking: 95
The mid-major pendulum may have swung too far back the other way.
Just because these teams have had an uptick in success, and just because Northern Iowa has killed a few giants before, it doesn't mean the glass slipper fits every time. Panthers fans are learning this lesson the hard way.
Incredible early wins over then-top-ranked North Carolina and then-fifth-ranked Iowa State—both high tourney seeds for sure—have faded into the rearview mirror as Northern Iowa free-falls down the bracket and the all-important RPI.
On Wednesday, a brutal one-point loss at Missouri State set the team and its fans reeling. Coach Matt Bohannon's bluntness was telling as he assessed the loss to Jim Sullivan of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.
"We weren’t tough enough," Bohannon said. "We didn’t make plays when we needed to. We can’t do that. We’ve got to have another level. We didn’t have that, and that’s why we’re losing games."
Ugh. One has to imagine that, unless Northern Iowa pulls out of this tailspin with authority, it almost certainly won't even be a postscript on the page when the next round of brackets hits the Web.
3. Seton Hall
Current tourney projection: 11
RPI ranking: 39
To date, Seton Hall has feasted on a steady diet of cupcakes. The Pirates' nonconference strength of schedule is a lead balloon, ranking 277th nationally, per KenPom.
And they still found a way to lose to Long Beach State and George Washington. The overtime win over Wichita State might balance those out, but if so, just barely.
The team's difficulties are encapsulated to some extent in Isaiah Whitehead, the star guard who leads the Hall with 15.5 points but on average takes 24.4 percent of the team's shots (more than 14 per game). He's tied for 32nd among D-I players for the most field goals attempted this season, according to NCAA statistics.
Even when Whitehead has a great game on paper, as he did Wednesday in a loss to Villanova, it's not always pretty and not always enough. He went for 20 against the Wildcats but needed 17 shots to get there. The rest of the team combined for 43 points on 42 attempts, so it's not like some magical supporting cast is waiting in the wings to emerge from Whitehead's shadow.
So, your guess is as good as mine. All I know is there are only so many balls to go around and so many seconds on the clock, and this kind of inefficiency won't carry the Pirates through the meat of the Big East schedule.
Current tourney projection: 6
RPI ranking: 37
Hey, everyone loves the Butler Bulldogs. And I get it. I still dream about what our society would look like if that midcourt shot had rattled home in the final seconds against Duke.
But this season's Butler incarnation is not the mid-major juggernaut we've grown accustomed to seeing.
For proof, look to its 2-3 record against teams that are in the Top 25 now, or were when Butler played them. Look to the disparity between their offensive and defensive KenPom rankings, hitting seventh and 185th in the nation, respectively.
That puts a premium on scoring. So, if the offense falters, there are issues.
Butler has some issues.
You can't lay everything at the feet of one guy, but a not-insignificant part of the pessimism lies with leading scorer Kellen Dunham. He is mired in a seven-game shooting slump (including a gawd-awful 0-of-12 against Purdue) that has lowered his overall season field-goal success rate to a paltry 39.8 percent.
Dunham went 8-of-14 from the floor in Butler's last game at 6-9 DePaul (whom the Bulldogs only beat by five points), but things are still shaky. Dunham appears to be pressing for his shot at the expense of other things that might also benefit the team. (He's managing only 1.3 assists and 2.1 rebounds to 1.2 turnovers per game on the season.)
Head coach Chris Holtmann tried for an upbeat tone in speaking recently with Tom Davis of the News-Sentinel, but it wasn't hard to read concern in the subtext:
When you are struggling, as a player, the first [thought] is ‘I’ve got to get out of my own slump.’ When you get out of yourself and say ‘I’ve got to play. I’ve got to help my team win. I’ve got to do whatever I need to to help my team win,’ for him, that is take good shots and rebound and guard. He’ll be fine. ... I trust that Kellen just needs to keep working. He’s got to take good shots and he has to find other ways to impact the game.
Current tourney projection: 6
RPI ranking: 30
Two statistics tell the Pitt tale: its dismal 314th-ranked strength of schedule and a fairly energizing 71st-ranked luck percentage, both according to KenPom.
In other words, despite the fact that only 37 Division I teams have weaker schedules, Pittsburgh still needed some luck to obtain its 13-1 record.
The toughest test to date? Easily Purdue in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Panthers lost that one by 13.
After their recent close win over Georgia Tech, a post at SB Nation Pitt blog Cardiac Hill summarized the Panthers thusly:
Looking ahead, we still just don't know very much about this team. Syracuse or Georgia Tech are Pitt's best win, and they aren't very good overall. Pitt is ranked, but a lot of national media are very skeptical of this Pitt team. ... The good news? Pitt leads the country in free throw percentage.
So it does, hitting 79 percent as a team from the charity stripe. That's really terrific. But is it strong enough to hang a No. 6 tournament seed on? As the blog snippet intimated, no, it is not.
On offense, Pitt is balanced and can be deadly efficient. On the other end, not so much. The Panthers have a tendency to let teams back into games and are prone to fits of sloppy or lackadaisical play on both ends, particularly down the stretch.
They buckled down and pulled away from squads such as Western Carolina, Georgia Tech and Jim Boeheim-less Syracuse. Will they be able to simply stomp the gas and outlast the better teams on their schedule?
We're about to find out. Between now and the end of February, the Panthers have a steep hill to climb: Louisville twice, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Miami and Notre Dame. Of their final 16 games, six (or more than one-third) come against teams ranked in the Top 25 right now.
Everyone will see in short order what these Pitt Panthers are really made of.
Tournament projection, RPI rankings and all other stats from ESPN.com and accurate as of January 7 unless otherwise noted.