March Madness Is Coming: Who to Watch and Which Teams Can Make A Run

The 2020 NCAA Men’s basketball season has been complete chaos to say the least. It’s been near impossible to tell who’s good and who’s not. The chart below shows the top 15 teams in the AP Poll at three different times of this season: preseason, mid-season and currently.


Pretty easy to see how much the list has shifted. Four of the top ten current top ten teams were unranked to begin the season (San Diego State, Dayton, Florida State and Penn State). How does anyone know who is actually any good and who can make a run in the tournament? These are the questions I will try to answer.
In both my own beliefs and in my research, I have found five crucial factors that allow teams to make deep runs into March. These five factors are:
1. Offensive Efficiency– The ability to score the ball is obviously important as you win by scoring more points, duh. The best measure of how efficient a team scores is points scored per 100 possessions.
2. Defensive Efficiency– Preventing your opponent from scoring is the next crucial factor. The best way to look at this is points allowed per 100 possessions.
3. Total Rebounding – The ability to rebound the basketball is a necessity among teams looking to make a run. Not only to finish defensive possessions, but to get themselves extra possessions on offense.
4. Defense without fouling– Not only to keep opponents off the free throw line, but to keep the most important players on the court and out of foul trouble.
5. Strength of Schedule– Experience playing in the types of games that every tournament game is and playing the type of competition that improves a team over the course of a season.
So I made an algorithm using these factors and weighted them to see which teams have the best chance to make a run this March. Before you blindly trust me, let me show you why you should. I decided to look back over the last couple years to make sure this algorithm seemed like an accurate predictor.
What did I find? Let’s look at my top 4 results from 2018-19

  1. Virginia (National Champion)
  2. Duke (Elite Eight Lost vs Michigan State)
  3. Michigan State (Final Four)
  4. Gonzaga (Elite Eight)

If you’re curious #5 was a sweet 16 team and #6 was an elite 8 team.
Yes, the national champion was number 1 on the list, a final four team third and 2 elite eight teams make up the top four. All four final four teams were in the top 25 on my list. Not convinced? Let’s go two years back and look at the final four teams from the 2017-18 NCAA Tournament. All Four Final Four teams were in my top 15 and Loyola is the only one outside the top 10- Villanova (4) – National Champion, Michigan (8), Kansas (10), and Loyola-IL (14).
Okay, so maybe there’s something to it. Let’s look at my top 15 for this season.

  1. Kansas
  2. Gonzaga
  3. Duke
  4. Utah State
  5. Michigan State
  6. San Diego State
  7. Maryland
  8. Baylor
  9. Ohio State
  10. Colorado
  11. Louisville
  12. Illinois
  13. Yale
  14. Arizona
  15. Rutgers

Important takeaways:
-Kansas is on top and has to be my favorite to win it all.
-Gonzaga is the best offensive team in the country and 25th in defense, they only have one loss, but they haven’t really played any top teams either.
-San Diego State is the only team in the top 10 for both offense and defense, they are the only undefeated team, but haven’t played the type of schedule teams like Kansas have.
-Duke- the only team besides San Diego State that is top 15 in both offense and defense.
-Don’t count out Michigan State, especially in March.
-Need to go watch Utah State- they haven’t lost a bad game all year and had a 10-point second half lead at undefeated #4 San Diego State.

Overrated teams: Dayton, Florida State, Penn State, Oregon, Iowa, Marquette, West Virginia and Seton Hall.

  • Dayton is sweet 16 good (they are a top 20 team on the list), but not final 4 good
  • Florida State’s best ranking in the 5 factors is 48th in defense
  • Penn State- 58th in defense, 72nd in offense
  • Oregon- 145th in defense isn’t going to cut it
  • Iowa is awful defensively (229th in the country)
  • Marquette- Markus Howard shoots just about every time, the defense isn’t there either
  • West Virginia doesn’t have enough offense
  • Seton Hall- It’s all Myles Powell, no secondary options

I will also likely be avoiding Butler, Purdue and Texas Tech making deep runs in the tourney. If any of them are to make a run, they will need a string of very close wins to get it done.

Low and Mid-Major Bracket busters: Yale, Northern Colorado, Liberty, Northern Iowa and whoever wins the SoCon (ETSU, Furman or UNC-Greensboro)

These are all things to consider as we near the NCAA Tournament. Once the bracket comes out it, games will depend a lot on matchups and of course who is playing well going into the tournament. But those on the top of my list will have a good chance to make a run no matter what matchups they get.

I’ll finish this post with what I’ll be paying attention to over the next couple weeks. A few things that will affect how I make some decisions when it comes to looking at the bracket and making my picks:

  1. Does Kansas win the Big 12 Tournament?
  2. A potential San Diego State-Utah State matchup in the Mountain West Tournament
  3. Who wins the Big Ten Tournament?
  4. Mid-Major Conference Tournament Champions

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