Alabama’s Wild Ride, Kentucky’s Statement, and Other Developments in This Week’s TRACR Rankings
Jaden Ivey’s magic, a defensive showdown between Tennessee and Texas, and Alabama proving to be the most confusing team in the country were just some of the highlights from a tremendous weekend in college basketball.
TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) can quantify just how crazy this season has been for Alabama (21st in TRACR) after its 87-78 win over Baylor on Saturday.
TRACR is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. The model, which is trained on over 15 years of college basketball data, rewards big wins over good teams and punishes losses to bad ones or even wins that were closer than expected.
Here are some of the Tide’s key wins this season with that team’s TRACR rank:
- Gonzaga (No. 1) at a neutral site
- vs. Houston (No. 2)
- vs. Baylor (9th)
- vs. Tennessee (10th)
- vs. LSU (19th)
These wins would generally imply a top-five team in the sport at least. Yet the Tide have many ugly losses, notably:
- Iona (71st) at a neutral site
- Davidson (75th) at a neutral site
- at Missouri (115th)
- at Georgia (146th)
Alabama went from losing at Georgia to winning against Baylor. Huh?!
Note that many of these games – both the wins and losses – have been close games. Perhaps that means that the Tide caught a bad break with some losses, but they also got some lucky wins (see the victory against Houston). Either way, it smells trouble for the dance.
But Alabama’s continued journey through a weird season was not the most surprising result of the past weekend.
Kentucky Makes a Statement
They say Allen Fieldhouse is one of the hardest places to win on the road (and as someone who has been to games there, I can attest to that). Kentucky (No. 5) made it look like a home gym.
The 18-point victory over No. 5 Kansas (12th) was Kentucky’s largest vs. an AP top-five team on the road in school history. It wasn’t that close, either (the Wildcats led 51-31 at halftime).
Oscar Tshiebwe has been one to watch all season, averaging 16.3 points and 15.1 rebounds. He has more offensive rebounds this season than any Wildcat has total rebounds.
The win at Kansas, however, showed that the Wildcats are much more. Keion Brooks Jr. broke out and had the best game of his career, finishing with 27 points. TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler are one of the best backcourt combinations in the sport. Over its last seven games, Kentucky is 6-1 while shooting 51.6% from the floor as a team.
This team has experience, talent, and depth. Combine those three together, and you have yourself a Final Four team.
How the Mountain West Will Win
The Nevada squad that consisted of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline was fun to watch. However, over the last two tournaments, the conference is a combined 0-4 in March Madness despite some of those teams having big names (Caleb Martin, Jordan Schakel, Neemias Queta, etc.).
Granted, the Mountain West might have had more success had the 2020 NCAA Tournament occurred. San Diego State ended at No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and Utah State had a great team and won the conference tournament (right before everything shut down).
Still, I ask this: How will this year’s conference fare in the tournament?
TRACR projects to have three, maybe four Mountain West teams in the NCAA Tournament: San Diego State (31st) Boise State (39th) and either Colorado State (69th) or Wyoming (72nd). Utah State is high in TRACR (37th) after blowing out its last two opponents, but it has too many losses to be considered for the tourney right now.
All of these teams have great features but some flaws. The Aztecs have the best defensive rating in TRACR. The offense, however, is below average and the third worst in the Mountain West. Boise State has won 18 consecutive games, with its last loss coming in overtime on Nov. 30. The Broncos are 8-0 in conference play, but each of their last six games have been won by single digits and some of their wins have not been pretty (they beat San Diego State 42-37). They are 0-1 against AP Top 25 teams.
Colorado State jumped off to an 11-0 start and won 16 of its first 17 games, reaching as high as No. 20 in the Top 25. The Rams, however, have lost their last two games, including a 14-point loss to UNLV (98th). Wyoming is having one of its best seasons in school history, and the Cowboys have two great scorers in Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado. They beat Utah State on the road, but a 29-point loss to Arizona (No. 6) earlier in the season (one of their only major challenges in nonconference play) suggests that the Cowboys might have trouble with major programs.
It should be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.
Race to the Big Ten Title
Two seasons ago, Wisconsin (24th) came out of nowhere and won eight straight to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
This year, the Badgers were projected to finish 10th in the conference. But in classic Greg Gard fashion, they have snuck into a tie for first place.
There are at least four other teams that could run through and win the conference. Illinois (18th) is tied for first, getting a huge win over Michigan State (13th) without Kofi Cockburn. Speaking of the Spartans, Tom Izzo has whipped up a fantastic squad on both ends of the floor. They are 11-2 since Dec. 1, with their two losses being decided by a combined three points. Ohio State (15th) is behind at 6-3 in conference play, but the team nearly came back to beat Purdue on Sunday. The Buckeyes are home against Iowa (29th) and Maryland (60th) over their next two games to try and get back into the competition.
And at the top of the Big Ten in TRACR is Purdue (No. 4). Despite the 7-3 record in conference play, it seems almost obvious at this point that the Boilermakers have the most talent in the conference. Jaden Ivey’s miraculous shot against Ohio State showed why NBA scouts love him. Zach Edey is not only so efficient from the floor, but the 7-foot-4 big man is so tough to guard that he often puts his opponents in foul trouble. We saw that when Kofi Cockburn of Illinois played only 22 minutes because of foul trouble in Purdue’s double-overtime win.
Purdue is third in Division I in field-goal percentage (.505) and fourth in 3-point percentage (.412). And almost everyone can shoot.
Sasha Stefanovic is making 41.7% from beyond the arc and the Boilermakers are 9-0 when he makes at least three 3s. Mason Gillis has taken only 41 shots from downtown, but he’s made 21 of them (51.2%). They are the only major conference team to have at least four players shooting at least 40.0% from 3 with at least 40 attempts this season.
One other team that could sneak into the conversation is Indiana (22nd). The Hoosiers have the best defensive TRACR in the Big Ten and has key wins over Ohio State and Purdue. Their next five games are tough – home at Illinois, at Northwestern (61st), at Michigan State, home against Wisconsin, at Ohio State.
If Indiana can win at least three of those five games, then it could be in consideration from the title.
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