BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2012-13 Season Analytical Writings
Over the last 10 years, the adjusted NGE at the end of a season has been a very reliable indicator of the tournament champion. Six (6) of the ten (10) Tournament Champions have ended the season with the #1 adjusted NGE, and two (2) other Champions (UConn '04, Florida '07) finished with the second best adjusted NGE. The exceptions to this trend have been the 2003 Syracuse team that finished with the 8 th best adjusted NGE that year, and the 2011 UConn team that finished with the 10 th best adjusted NGE. Who has the inside track to the 2013 NCAA Tournament Championship?
No team outside the top 10 per the adjusted NGE has won this tournament over the last decade, and the two exceptions to either #1 or #2 winning it all have been such noteworthy occurrences that most consider them impressive, if unlikely results. Therefore, this pre-tournament examination starts with an isolated examination of the top 10 teams, per their current adjusted NGE as the sun rises on Selection Sunday. In my opinion, the 2013 Champion will almost certainly come from this group.
The standings on March 17, 2013 have Florida at the top, but there is very little separating thea top three, Florida, Indiana, and Louisville. Gonzaga and Duke form the second tier, and there is very little difference between any of those in the 6 to 10 spots.
Until this season, my entire focus on the adjusted NGE values and the eventual champion has been on the ending values, and on that basis, the data suggest that Florida is a prohibitive favorite as this tournament begins, and the most likely contender will be #2 Indiana. The other 8 teams, collectively have about the same probability of producing a champion as does Indiana to remain standing on that April Monday night when CBS delivers the 2013 One Shining Moment. However, this season, I have generated data that tracks each team's adjusted NGE throughout the season, and this data provides a glimpse at how each of these teams are trending as the season transitions from the regular season to post season competition.
Florida finishes in the top spot, but as these trends show, few people would have envisioned the Gators in the driver's seat when this season began. However, by December, the Gators placed themselves into the conversation, and through January and most of February, the Gators' play elevated them into the Mesosphere of college basketball, where they lived on rare air. Over the last 4 weeks, they have returned to the Stratosphere of Big Time College Basketball, where only the best of the best can function at high levels. For the record, the majority of college teams can't function efficiently in the Stratosphere, and live their seasons in the turbulence of the Troposphere, or even unable to fly at all and are grounded.
Over the last decade, some champions have ventured into the Mesosphere during the season, but only one of them maintained that level of play to the very end, Kansas in 2007. Florida has shown its more human side, and has returned to the Stratosphere, and for that reason along, the 2013 Championship remains in question. The fall from the highest levels of play to those that support the season ending #1 ranking appears to have stabilized, and if the Gators have leveled out from that decline, they remain the favorites, albeit small favorites, to prevail through this tournament.
Many analysts in the pre-season mentioned Indiana as one of the favorites that should be still standing when the NCAA moves to its Final Four. The Hoosiers were one of two teams to defeat last year's Champions, were eliminated in the Sweet 16 by those same Champions, and the Hoosiers returned most of its roster that would be further bolstered by a terrific recruiting class. This Indiana team has not disappointed those supporters, and have been at or near the top of the ratings, with their play, all season long. Through the November to December time frame, they have been #1, and after the Gators decided to play in their own zone for awhile, IU has hovered at #2, waiting, hoping, that the Gators would bring their game back down and give everyone else a chance. The Hoosiers enter the tournament in that familiar #2 spot. However, their trend is more than a little disturbing if you are a Hoosier fan because in the last few weeks, their adjusted NGE has been on a steady decline. For this reason, I discount the Indiana Hoosier's outlook in the Tournament, and will be surprised if they appear in the Championship game.
Almost as many analysts mentioned the Louisville Cardinals in their pre-season prognostications as the Indiana Hoosiers. They reached the final four a year ago before falling to eventual champion Kentucky, and they returned an experienced, quality roster. The Cardinals were in the top 5 adjusted NGE teams through most of November and December, but a tough stretch of games in January corresponded with a drop in their stock. However, over the last month of the season, the Cardinals have been steadily improving, and finish with the 3 rd best adjusted NGE in the country, just shy of the #2 spot, and on a clear rising trend. For this reason, I elevate the Louisville Cardinal's outlook in the Tournament, and expect them to provide the stiffest challenge to the Gators, and potentially winning the trophy in April.
THE REST OF THE TOP 10
As always in sporting competition, other teams may emerge during the event and remain standing at the end, becoming the latest “David” to conquer a “Goliath” in this sport. Syracuse did it in 2003. UConn did it in 2011. There have been others through the ages, and this may be a year in which David wins again. If a David emerges, if a team steps forward and declares “That Cinderella Slipper” fits these feet, that team will most likely emerge from one of the remaining 7 teams identified at the top of this piece. That will require Florida, Indiana, and Louisville to all stumble, and for one of these others to elevate their game for this 6 game trial by fire. In my opinion, there is about a 1 in 5 probability that will occur, and that it is impossible to predict which team will find the slipper really fits.
Of this group, I am not impressed by the trends for Duke, Pittsburgh, or Michigan. I find the trends for Ohio State, Kansas, and Wisconsin rising, and promising. Gonzaga is lurking in that #4 spot, and their play over the last month has been consistent and stable. However, history indicates that a champion is not likely to emerge from a non-BCS conference, and for that reason alone, I tend to discount Gonzaga's #4 finish.
THE REST OF THE NCAA FIELD
Some people describe the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play as being the stage set for this group, and the last two weekends for the crème de la crème of the season. I believe that is the case, and while one or two of the teams may emerge from the field to compete in the Sweet 16, I do not expect any of them to wear Cinderella's slipper in April. All the talk of last four in, first four out, and who will get the automatic bid from the Ivy League, Southland Conference, the Great West Conference, and the likes is for the talking heads and those who have little to no chance to really compete in this championship. Thankfully, that talk will all end on Selection Sunday when the Committee ends its hand wringing over such matters, and systematically misplaces the top 12 to 16 teams in those coveted top seeding positions.
As a lifelong Big Blue Fan, the 2012-13 season has been a very disappointing, and agonizing journey. The Wildcats have laid an egg, which in the vernacular of the street means to fail wretchedly. Coach Calipari has admitted as much following their most recent debacle. As a result, this team has very little chance to even compete in this year's NCAA Big Dance, and if permitted to do so, this team has virtually no chance of competing for the championship. Add to that reality the fact that the three teams most likely to prevail in this tournament, Florida, Louisville, and Indiana, are the three largest Big Blue Nemeses in college basketball, I am left with nothing but madness about this entire season.
Let the madness begin, and for the Big Blue Nation, let the madness of the 2012-13 season end.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks