Gonzaga Dominates, Illinois Rises, and the Big 12 Puts the NCAA on Notice in This Week’s TRACR Rankings
How do people watch these shows when there is college basketball to focus on?
Welcome to another edition of TRACR talk!
TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) 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 key trends that TRACR has recognized of late:
Zags Remain Dominant
There should be no question that Gonzaga (No. 1 in TRACR) is the best team in college basketball right now. Yes, Auburn (10th) is ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, but the Tigers’ wins have looked quite different compared to the Bulldogs’ victories.
Gonzaga has won 12 straight, with each of the last four victories being decided by 30 or more points. In those 12 games, the Bulldogs averaged 94.3 points while shooting 53.9% from the field and 40.7% from beyond the arc. That scoring average is the best in Division I since Dec. 9, while that field-goal percentage ranks second behind Vermont (54.7; 185th).
While Gonzaga’s opponents are not as good, according to TRACR, beating them by so much suggests that it can win against even the best teams.
And the team is dominant on both ends of the floor. The only team with a better offensive TRACR than Gonzaga is Purdue (No. 3). However, the Zags defense, ranked fifth in Division I, is what separates the Bulldogs from the Boilermakers. One may hear so much about how dominant offensively Drew Timme and company are, but the defense is much stronger compared to past Gonzaga teams.
This was shown over the weekend against BYU (57th). As Gonzaga dropped 90 points and shot 52.5% from the field, the Cougars were held to 57 points on 29.6% shooting. It was 47-23 at halftime. The game was out of reach early.
Gonzaga is playing its best basketball right now. There is evidence that the Bulldogs can reach the championship game like they did last year.
Illinois Fighting Back
Hoosier fans will claim that they are disappointed in their loss against Illinois over the weekend (I’m looking at you, Mom). However, Illinois simply looked its best against Indiana (15th). The Illini made 10 threes, held Indiana to 57 points, and dominated without Kofi Cockburn having a double-double.
Someone else is starting to step up for the Illini, and that’s what the team needed, especially with Andre Curbelo not at full health. Earlier in the season, Alfonso Plummer stepped up. Against Indiana, it was Trent Frazier who went off.
Illinois was ranked No. 3 in TRACR’s preseason poll. A few losses without Kofi Cockburn earlier in the year made the Illini ranked in the late teens. Now, at almost full strength, they are ranked No. 12.
Tuesday’s matchup over Purdue (3rd) will be one of the games of the year. These two teams already squared off in Champaign, when Purdue escaped in double overtime. Kofi Cockburn was out for most of the game with foul trouble. Will Zach Edey give Cockburn trouble yet again?
Rock Chalk, Hook ‘em, Bear Down
First and foremost – if you are a ranked team and you beat another ranked team (or any team for that matter), you should not storm the court. Come on, Longhorns fans!
That’s what happened with Texas (14th) came back against Kansas (No. 6) and won at home on Monday. The win for the Longhorns is definitely one to keep an eye on for a few reasons. Timmy Allen had his best game of the season. The bench stepped up. A team comprised mostly of transfers has come together under Chris Beard.
Okay, Longhorn fans, maybe those reasons suffice a court storm.
The loss for Kansas did not move them on TRACR, nor should it. The Jayhawks played well, it was a wild atmosphere, and they lost control at the end. It happens.
If there is any concern for the Jayhawks, it is that they have played some close games as of late. In Big 12 play, they are 4-1 in games decided by fewer than five points. One of those games could have gone the other way, as it did on Monday against Texas.
We should still be talking about Kansas’ dominant win over Baylor (15th) over the weekend. Christian Braun had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Ochai Agbaji continued with his great season. The team is getting great minute from Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu.
Speaking of Baylor – what’s going on over there? The Bears are 4-4 after starting the season 15-0, and they played their worst against Kansas over the weekend. They still have blowout wins over Michigan State (21st) and Villanova (No. 5), but conference play has not gone as planned. Unlike the Chicago Bears, bear down for Baylor is not a good feeling.
Remember – the Big 12 is the best conference, according to TRACR. Every game is a fight. The Kansas-Texas game felt like a war. Losses to these teams are not as drastic as it would be to lose to a non-major conference.
Picks for This Week
Here are some TRACR projections for this week of college basketball:
No. 16 Marquette (18th AP) at No. 25 UConn (24th), Tuesday, Feb. 8
TRACR Favorite: Marquette (57.9%)
Projected Score: Marquette 72, UConn 69
No. 34 Wisconsin (14th) at No. 21 Michigan State (17th), Tuesday, Feb. 8
TRACR Favorite: Michigan State (60.9%)
Projected Score: Michigan State 68, Wisconsin 65
No. 12 Illinois (13th) at No. 3 Purdue (No. 3), Tuesday, Feb. 8
TRACR Favorite: Purdue (65.8%)
Projected Score: Purdue 88, Illinois 83
No. 14 Texas (20th) at No. 15 Baylor (10th), Saturday, Feb. 12
TRACR Favorite: Baylor (56.2%)
Projected Score: Baylor 78, Texas 76
No. 20 Saint Mary’s (22nd) at No. 1 Gonzaga (No. 2), Saturday, Feb. 12
TRACR Favorite: Gonzaga (89.5%)
Projected Score: Gonzaga 91, Saint Mary’s 75
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