Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Our TRACR College Basketball Rankings and Predictions
NFL? College football? World Cup?
Please, there’s only one sport worth watching – college basketball. Is it weird that I’m more focused on the Big Ten-ACC Challenge than the group stages?
Probably, but whatever.
With crazy buzzer beaters (Bobby Pettiford!) to surprise blowouts (Marquette!), the college basketball season has already been thrilling, with plenty more games to come. There are 86 games to watch today, two of which are AP Top 25 showdowns. Are you not entertained?
Yes, I understand that there are SO many teams to cover, so it is tough to follow. That’s where TRACR comes in. If you missed last year’s coverage or aren’t familiar with our college football rankings, TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) is our way of evaluating team strength while also generating win probabilities from a single game to the entire NCAA Tournament.
TRACR is a net efficiency metric that measures a team’s points per possession on both sides of the ball, adjusted by the team it plays. The model rewards teams that do well against good teams, and punishes those that do poorly against weaker squads.
Yesterday’s Baylor-Marquette game, for example, punished the Bears for getting crushed by the Golden Eagles. Baylor was down by 26 at halftime en route to a 96-70 defeat. This moved Baylor down four points in TRACR, which sent them back from 10th to 21st. Marquette, which is now 6-2 with each of its last three games being double-digit wins, jumped almost six points in TRACR and moved from 72nd to 47th.
There will continue to be some big movers while it’s still early, especially when a team blows out someone with a higher rating. However, something has stuck out among the current top teams in Division I – most teams are great on only one side of the court.
Illinois (23rd overall), for example, is the fifth-best team in defensive TRACR, but 50th in offensive TRACR. Toledo (67th) ranks 20th in offensive TRACR but 185th in defensive TRACR. Shout out to Louisiana Tech (125th), UMass Lowell (157th), High Point (236th) and IUPUI (363rd) for having the same rank on offense and defense.
There are only two teams that rank in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive TRACR: Alabama and UConn. If you like balance on both sides of the floor, these are two teams to watch out for.
In 2014-15, Kentucky was the dominant team. In 2020-21, it was Gonzaga. Neither team won it all. This season, there does not seem to be one dominant team but many, many talented ones.
If you think that March Madness was wild last year, this season appears to have teams that are even closer in competition.
The Big 12, which is home to the last two national champions, have the highest average rating in Division I. The 25.0 rating suggests that the average Big 12 team (like Iowa State or Oklahoma) would beat an average team (say, an average team from the Missouri Valley) by about 25 points. Every team in the conference is ranked in the top 50, with the highest team being Texas at No. 4.
In previous years, the Big Ten followed the Big 12, but right now the SEC has jumped ahead. Last season, the SEC made a huge jump due to the rise of teams like Auburn, Arkansas and Alabama. There are five teams in the SEC in TRACR’s top 25 and only two teams outside the top 100 (Georgia and South Carolina). It is a little more top heavy than the Big 12, but these top teams in the SEC all have Final Four potential.
The Big Ten will be just as competitive, but a few teams that have been good in the past have not done too well statistically. Wisconsin (51st) and Michigan (56th) have showed signs of potential but have weaknesses. That being said, Indiana (10th) returning as a possible top team will make the conference just as strong as it has been. This could be one of the best seasons in the Purdue (No. 8) and Indiana rivalry.
While Jay Wright is no longer in the Big East and Villanova (43rd) might not be a top-10 team yet again, the Big East is showing signs of improvement from last year.
We mentioned Marquette’s big win over Baylor, but it’s more than just the Golden Eagles. Creighton (22nd) can beat any team in the country with its 3-point shooting, especially from transfer Baylor Scheierman. Xavier (19th) is just 4-3, but all three losses have come in single digits to ranked teams. UConn has won every game by at least 15 points, including a win over Alabama. This might be the best Big East since the break up.
Games to Watch
North Carolina (18th in TRACR) at Indiana (10th)
- Projection: Indiana 65.0%
- Projected Final: Indiana 83, North Carolina 78
Ohio State (14th) at Duke (12th)
- Projection: Duke 53.2%
- Projected Final: Duke 77, Ohio State 76
Creighton (22nd) at Texas (No. 4)
- Projection: Texas 66.5%
- Projected Final: Texas 80, Creighton 74
Seton Hall (27th) at Kansas (25th)
- Projection: Kansas 58.0%
- Projected Final: Kansas 77, Seton Hall 75
Gonzaga (No. 5) at Baylor (21st)
- Projection: Gonzaga 55.8%
- Projected Final: Gonzaga 88, Baylor 85
Illinois (23rd) at Maryland (31st)
- Projection: Maryland 54.3%
- Projected Final: Maryland 74, Illinois 72
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