Every giant can fall.
If there is any lesson from this college basketball season, then it is (for now the state of San Diego). Waiting to break open the March Madness braces, perhaps more than ever this season, are a group of future underdogs who want to end the contenders' tournament dreams early. This space is dedicated to that: the Giant Killers.
It has undergone several iterations over the years, but the idea has long been to use data-driven analysis to identify those Giant Killers, which we as each team define at least five seed lines below his opponent in the tournament that poses a legitimate threat to win. So for the first time in 2020 we are looking at the field and trying to answer this question: Who are the early contenders of Giant Killer that we should keep an eye on?
Our current methodology uses our Basketball Power Index (BPI) as a basis and builds on that by considering stylistic benefits between two teams in a given matchup. You can read more about this the methodology here in our introduction from 2018.
But back to 2020: today we focus on potential first-round Giant Killers – expected to be No. 11 seeds or worse – that can cause major damage next month.
Note: all information from Wednesday.
Liberty is well positioned for a repeat as Giant Killer. Last season, the Flames number 5 seed disrupted Mississippi State largely due to a 30-point, 62.5% field goal play by Caleb Homesley. Now he and big man Scottie James – who we stressed a year ago – let Liberty fly towards the tournament again.
Although tied for the first time in the Atlantic Sun, the Flames have an 89% chance of reaching the NCAA tournament, as they are more than eight points per game better than any other team in the conference. And with our model projecting the Flames to earn an average seed of 11.3, they are also on track to have a relatively easy first-round opponent. Liberty has a 13% chance of reaching the Sweet 16 – incredible for a team that depends on its conference championship to earn a tournament bid. That's how bullish our numbers are in this team.
BPI, which adapts to the quality of the opponent, regards the Flames as the 31st best defending team in the nation.
Among the reasonably likely Giant Killer matchups – including teams with at least 25% chance of reaching the tournament and against opponents they face in one of our simulations – the most likely qualification is upset Liberty over Oregon (44%), thanks to Flames & # 39; superior defense and two-point score.
Furman faces a much harder path to actually reach the tournament because it plays in a southern conference that is pretty strong at the top with East Tennessee State, UNC Greensboro and Furman all in the top 70 of BPI. As a result, Furman only has a 22% chance of winning the conference tournament, although it is at least possible that the Paladins can also make a large bid, so BPI gives Furman a total chance of 35% to reach the tournament. From Wednesday afternoon, Joe has Lunardi Furman as one Nr. 12 seed in Bracketology.
The Paladins, led by senior guard Jordan Lyons and junior ahead Clay Mounce, would be a tough fight in the first round. They take a large number of shots outside the arch and are relentlessly efficient when shooting from the field (although less once we adjust for the quality of the opponents). Although dangerous, Furman is not as spicy as Liberty; his best potential matchup (also vs. Oregon) provides a 33% chance of winning.
This is all about Loren Cristian Jackson. The Akron guard is in 12th place in the country in our opponent-adjusted win rating, one place for fellow Ohio school star Obi Toppin. He shoots 45% from a 3-point range (including a 48% percentage against D-I opponents, per KenPom), which is only part of an exceptionally efficient and extensive 3-point attack from the Zips as a whole.
That long-range shooting combined with particularly strong free-throw shooting is the reason why the Zips pose a major threat to many potential opponents in the first round of the NCAA tournament … when they get there.
Akron will almost certainly have to win the MAC conference tournament to go dancing, but it has the advantage of being the best team in the conference in the eyes of BPI. With Ball State, Kent State and even Toledo not far behind, our model gives the Zips only a 38% chance of winning the title of the conference.
Is it really a story of Giant Killers if we don't include Vermont? The Catamounts are regulars here, and this season is no different. They will exceptionally reach the tournament, considering how much better they are than the rest of the American East.
BPI likes the strong defense of the Catamounts, although our Giant Killers model is a little less optimistic about them, because their three-point attempts and efficiency are both missing. But that defense, which has held opponents up to 42% from a 2-point range, according to KenPom, is scary enough that Vermont will be a tough enemy for a potential number 5 or number 6 seed in March.
This is a bit more of a deep cut, because if the bears reach the tournament, they are likely to be a lower seed than the teams mentioned above. In BPI simulations in which North Colorado reached the tournament, it had an average of 13.7.
But the bears are better than their 15-8 record and suggest the current third place in the Big Sky. In terms of straight net efficiency, the bears are the best in the Big Sky with just over two points per game. But as soon as we take into account the adaptation of an opponent, balloons take that advantage to around 4.5 points. We estimate that they are the best team in the conference, and as a result they are almost a coin changer (47%) to win their conference tournament and make a bid.
Senior security guard Jonah Radebaugh is the key for bears' violation, connects 41% of shots from outside the arc and averages more than six assists per game. Even with a potential number 14 against number 3 seed matchups against Florida State or Penn State, the Bears would have a 27% and 24% chance of winning respectively.