BURNFIN: Don't get complicated

3/19/2014

Don't get complicated

It's rather simple.

Well, far from it in reality. But I make choosing the my NCAA Tournament bracket every year as simple as I can.

No, I don't flip a coin. I don't choose based on mascots — but the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers would definitely win.

Instead, I live by two rules.

First, the Oregon Ducks — my favorite team — always advance to the Sweet 16 (if they are in the tournament).

Yes, I know for you Jayhawks out there, and even you Shockers now, a Sweet 16 appearance is as disappointing as that next 300 movie coming out will be. Trust me. It will be terrible. And awesome.

But for the Ducks, despite the rich history as the first NCAA Tournament champions way back in 1939, a Sweet 16 appearance might as well be a national championship. That's probably as close as they are getting without Aaron Brooks coming back to town or Kevin Love deciding to stay in Oregon like a non-state traitor would do.

The second rule is, take the team with the better defensive points per possession (ppp) average, or defensive efficiency. For those unfamiliar with the stat, it's quite simple. It measures how many points does a team's defense give up per possession for their opponent. Slightly above-average defense is about one point per possession, give or take, as 115 NCAA schools were under that mark this season.

But the most telling part of the statistic is that since 1997-98, the furthest back the teamrankings.com database is recorded, 12 of the 16 NCAA Tournament champions finished the season in the top 20 in defensive efficiency. And six of those were in the top 10, including last year's No. 3 defensive efficiency team Louisville, which is ranked second coming into the tournament this season at 0.867 ppp. In 2012, Kentucky was ninth. In 2010, Duke was also ninth.

The 2011 UConn Huskies are an outlier at 75th, the lowest-ranked champion of the last 16. The next lowest was the 2009 North Carolina squad, which ranked 38th.

So in its simplest form, the defensive efficiency stat is a fairly good predictor of who is good, which is all we're trying to discern in our brackets, right?

This season, I have Arizona winning the whole thing — beating Louisville in the Final Four — as the top-ranked defensive efficiency team at .865 ppp.

Also in the top 10 and in the tournament are San Diego State (.879), North Carolina Central (.882), Virginia (.885), VCU (.887), Saint Louis (.887), Ohio State (.887) and Cincinnati (.890). The only team in the top 10 and not in the tournament was No. 9 Lousiana Tech (.888).

Wichita State is just outside at 12th, with .996 ppp allowed, just behind No. 11 Florida (.895).

In comparison, Kansas is 107th at .996, and Kansas State is 58th (.965).

So, perhaps it is too simple, but my Final Four includes top-ranked Arizona, No. 2 Louisville, No. 8 Ohio State and then Michigan State, which was 44th in defensive efficiency.

That seems to me four teams that have as good a shot as anybody. But then again, I also lost in all of my bracket pools last year, including one to somebody who did not watch a single game all year. So what do any of us know?

Last piece of advice, though — despite its No. 4 ranking, I'd go ahead and stay away from picking NC Central to win it all. But maybe the Eagles will be this year's Cinderella?

Or they could lose by 40.

Just in case you were wondering, I have Kansas losing to Ohio State in the Sweet 16, K-State falling to Wichita State in the round of 32, and the Shockers going down to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

Sports Reporter Levi Burnfin can be reached at lburnfin@gctelegram.com

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