Xavier was ranked as high as No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 and was awarded the No. 1 seed in the West despite being upset by Providence in the Big East tournament semifinals. Regardless of that loss, Xavier received the first No. 1 seed in the school’s history. But should it have gotten a slot on the top line?
The Musketeers started the season 15-1, including quality victories over Baylor and Cincinnati, and feature senior Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, so a high seed in the tournament isn’t far-fetched, but Xavier is one of the weakest top seeds in the past 17 years.
Only once since 2002, the first year statistician Ken Pomeroy’s data is available, has a No. 1 seed ranked this low: Washington in 2005, a team that lost to No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16. There have been four other No. 1 seeds ranked 10th or worse, and none made it past the Elite Eight.
|No. 1 seed||Pomeroy ranking||NCAA Tournament result|
|2004 Stanford||12th||Lost in Round of 32|
|2005 Washington||14th||Lost in the Sweet 16|
|2006 Memphis||10th||Lost in Elite Eight|
|2016 Oregon||13th||Lost in Elite Eight|
|2017 Kansas||10th||Lost in Elite Eight|
So what’s the big issue with Xavier? Offensively, the Musketeers can go toe to toe with most programs — they averaged 120.7 points per 100 possessions after adjusting for strength of schedule, seventh in the nation, with success on spot-up shots, in transition and down low in the post. However, they don’t stretch the floor with perimeter shooting — just 36 percent of their field goals were behind the arc, 208th out of 351 teams — and when they did they weren’t very successful, connecting just 37 percent of the time, in line with the league average. And that’s with Bluiett taking over seven three-point attempts per game with a 42 percent success rate.
Defensively, the Musketeers allow 99 points per 100 possessions, giving them an adjusted net rating of plus-21.7, the 14th best per Pomeroy’s rankings. Pomeroy’s rankings are well suited as an indicator of team strength. They were consistently one of the best metrics at predicting future wins this season, correctly predicting 72 percent of matchups played after the ranking was released where the higher ranked team won.
Another top seed in this year’s tournament, Kansas, is also over-seeded compared with its Pomeroy rating. The Jayhawks couple the sixth-best offense with the 46th-best defense, giving them an adjusted net rating of plus-23.2, the ninth highest heading into the tournament. According to research by Jeff Feyerer, since 2004, there have been 41 teams that have been over-seeded in this way; just three — 2015 Duke, 2014 Wisconsin and 2009 Michigan State — have made it to the Final Four.
The presence of two No. 1 seeds that are low in Pomeroy’s rankings make this the weakest set of No. 1 seeds since 2002, narrowly beating the foursome of 2004, which averaged out to the sixth-best team rating that year. This year the top seeds average a rating of 6.5.
What does this mean for the bracket? In the four years in which the average ranking of the No. 1 seeds has been 5 or higher (2003, 2005, 2005, 2016), no more than two No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four, and in three of those years, only one top seed made it through. North Carolina and Illinois both made it in 2005, while only Texas reached the national semifinal in 2003, Duke in 2004 and North Carolina in 2016.
Perhaps Kansas or Xavier will be able to buck the trend, but it makes more sense to discount their chances of reaching the Final Four when filling out your bracket and find a few strong No. 2 or 3 seeds to take their place.
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