Perhaps the list of contenders for the NCAA basketball title has been long and vague lately than any other year. Sure, the usual leaders like Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State are likely to make noise in March, but none is an overwhelming favorite. That doesn't mean the big favorite always wins at this point, but this year's NCAA tournament seems to be more open than ever.
Who can say that a medium-sized team cannot win the title this season? If you've followed the season closely, you probably know who the medium-sized power players are. We're talking specifically about Gonzaga, Dayton, and the state of San Diego, but how about some other bigger longshots like BYU, Houston, and Wichita State? Does anyone have a real chance of becoming the first medium-sized champion since UNLV in 1990?
To determine if we should take any of these six teams seriously regarding NCAA title chances, we focused on some of their current statistics and performance ratings and compared them against the characteristics of the teams that have reached the last four:
- Strength of the regular season schedule in the top 45 nationwide: BYU
- Ranked among the top 55 offensive points per game (72 ppg or more): Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU
- Listed in the top 135 defensive points per game (70 ppg or less): Houston, Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, State of San Diego, State of Wichita
- Scored at least 1,185 effective points per possession on the offensive and top 18 nationwide: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU
- Allows less than 0.955 effective points per defense possession and ranks among the top 15 nationwide: State of San Diego, State of Wichita
- Shot at least 45 percent in the season, ranked among the top 45 nationwide in field goal percentage: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, Wichita State, San Diego State
- At least 34.5 percent of the 3-point attempts were placed in the top 100: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, San Diego State
- Had a restful percentage of at least 51.5 percent and ended up in the top 70: Gonzaga, Houston, Dayton, San Diego State
- Had an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 1,170, among the top 45 nationwide: Gonzaga, Dayton, BYU, San Diego State
- Allowed opponents 42 percent or less on field goal attempts: State of San Diego, Houston, State of Wichita
These lists show that Gonzaga and Dayton are full teams and have the types of résumés to reach the Final Four. San Diego State, Houston and Wichita State are defensive, while BYU is one of the best offensive teams in the country. Historically, teams that are more offensive tend to have greater tournament success than teams that focus primarily on defense.
Since the NCAA tournament is still a month away, we would very well take Gonzaga or Dayton on some futures bets. The zags are offered in the range from 8/1 to 10/1, while the prices for the flyers are between 12/1 and 20/1. Good price-performance ratio for both teams.