After identifying who qualifies as a potential National Champion per historic Kenpom metrics, I felt the need to identify who just misses the cut as this year has had more variance than ever. It’s also not as if Kenpom is full proof as the Shabazz Napier led Huskies broke the mold by winning it all in 2014. Still, one wrong year since 2003 is a pretty good crutch to lean on when filling out your bracket or making futures picks.
A reminder on how Kenpom historic metrics work: For a team to qualify as a potential National Champion, a team has to have an Adjusted Offensive Efficiency of 25 or lower while also combining for 50 or lower when factoring in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. There are other ways to filter as well like a team having an AdjO > 112.0 and AdjD < 94.0, but for simplicity let’s just stick with the original filter.
Longshot March Madness Title Contenders
With that said, let’s take a look at who just misses the cut as a potential National Champion per Kenpom historic metrics. Odds via Fanduel.
You might be surprised to see the Jayhawks on this list after previously being in the original seven to qualify as a potential champ. Sadly, that is no longer the case as they have dipped too low in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency by now sitting at 29th per Kenpom.
Now take this with a grain of salt as some people cut off before conference tournaments while others factor in tournament play when pulling historic metrics.
Worse yet, they have far more troubling concerns than their slight dip in offensive efficiency. They were placed in by far the hardest region in the bracket, getting a second-round date against a healthy Arkansas or Illinois, as well as potentially facing the likes of Saint Mary’s, UConn, TCU, Gonzaga, or UCLA.
One of the best two-point shooting teams in the nation and a nightmare to deal with in the interior, Marquette just misses the cut by having a combined efficiency rating of 55. They have a plethora of lethal scorers with Kam Jones leading the way with 15 points per game.
I have gone back and forth with their regional draw as a two seed. At first, I was worried about a potential second round matchup against Michigan State and their vaunted defense, yet Marquette should have little issue shifting it to their liking for consistent scoring opportunities.
They then get a reeling Kentucky or Kansas State squad, followed up by Duke, Tennessee, Memphis, or Purdue in the Elite 8. Should Memphis take down Purdue, then their path gets a whole lot easier.
The East region is going to be a recurring theme in this article as multiple near contenders reside in the area. Tennessee was as close as it got to qualifying as a potential champion, just missing out by having a combined efficiency of 51.
While second in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, their offense has been their main culprit of issues by dropping to 49th. They struggle to create space for high quality jump shots, now also dealing with the loss of their second leading scorer Zakai Zeigler.
Their slow pace limits the number of possessions for scoring opportunities, being prone to an early exit against a red-hot offense. They also get a potential second round date against Duke, a Blue Devils team who cruised to an ACC championship.
As previously mentioned, Duke is one of the hottest teams in the nation as they cruised to an ACC championship. Take that as you will as the ACC has been as weak as ever as of late, yet still strung together impressive performances nonetheless.
They are well balanced on both sides, combining for an efficiency of 66.
Offense was their main issue throughout the season, relying solely on Kyle Filipowski for a majority of the year before their secondary scorers stepped up to ease the load. Since Roach and Proctor have turned into reliable scorers, Duke has been able to spread the floor and be more consistent with their scoring.
Pending which filter you use for Kenpom historic metrics, Creighton either qualifies or just misses out. For the one I use, they miss out because of their 28th ranked Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Their defense on the other hand has been elite, ranking 15th for a combined efficiency of 43.
My issue with the Bluejays is that they are one of the thinnest units in basketball, only playing six players meaningful minutes. Granted five of their six players are all capable scorers, yet prone to scoring lulls should just one of them go cold.
Their draw is especially brutal, getting a feisty havoc minded North Carolina State squad in the first round. They then follow that up with a potential path of Baylor, Arizona, and Alabama just to get to the Final Four.
Saint Mary’s +4500
Getting the Gonzaga treatment of playing in the WCC, Saint Mary’s is getting slept on as a potential contender due to their lack of competitive play. Saint’s Mary’s misses out by having an Adjusted Offensive Efficiency of 40th yet qualifies as a top-50 unit with a ninth ranked defense.
Like Creighton, Saint Mary’s plays very thin by only playing six players meaningful minutes. Tired legs, scoring lulls, and potential injuries make this a pass for me, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if they cruise to the Sweet Sixteen on their defensive capabilities alone.
No team has garnered more buzz heading into the tournament than the Memphis Tigers. After losing to Houston to a buzzer beater, they then got their revenge in the conference tournament final by steam rolling the Cougars who were without Marcus Sasser.
Granted Sassar’s missing production was immediately apparent, it was still an impressive performance nonetheless as this team plays with a defensive intensity. The same intensity that is needed to give Purdue’s guards fits in what would be a potential second round matchup against the Boilermakers.
Couple their defensive pressure with two elite scoring threats in Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams and Memphis has all the makings of making a deep run. They have a combined efficiency of 61 yet are getting hot at just the right time.