March Madness 2015: Most overrated/underrated teams

And the 2015 NCAA Tournament is upon us. Sunday, the men's basketball tournament selection committee announced the field of 68, which begins play in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night with two play-in games followed by another two the following evening (though the official name given to those games is "first round", we all know that's rather hilarious).

NCAA Tournament 2015 most overrated underrated teams
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March Madness 2015: Most overrated/underrated teams


4.) Purdue Boilermakers

Seed: 9

Ken Pom Ranking: 49

The Purdue Boilermakers are a solid, hard-nosed team under Matt Painter. That will likely never change. And the ninth seed is probably fair, based on the way teams have historically been seeded.

But they condemn themselves by playing a fairly slow pace, 65.5 possessions per game, and ranking as just the 83rd most efficient offense. Part of that is because they rank 200th in 3-point shots attempted. And when they do shoot them, they don’t shoot them very well—just 33.5 percent.

That’s not a good way, especially in today’s game, to win basketball games. The result is exactly 70 points per game, good for 99th nationally. That’s good enough to win 13 games in the Big Ten Conference, and 21 overall.

But it likely will not be good enough to win them more than one game in the tournament, if any. And here’s the other thing, they’re not very good defensively either. They’re 125th nationally, allowing 64.5 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting from the field.

Those are not terrible numbers, but this season—a discernibly down season for offense in college basketball—they are not great either.

(Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)


5.)  Indiana Hoosiers (20-13)

Seed: 10

Ken Pom Ranking: 53

Tom Crean and his Indiana Hoosiers team had to be sweating a bit going into Selection Sunday. At 20-13, the Hoosiers were firmly on the bubble. What got them over? Likely the fact they come from a power five conference. The committee was not too kind to non-power conference teams this year.

But among power five conference teams who made tournament field, Indiana ranked far below any other in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings at 53rd overall. Six teams ranked ahead of them who did not make the field of 68.

Some of that is likely because they were 297th best defensive team, giving up 71.4 points per game while allowing a terrible 45.5 percent shooting from the floor by opponents. That ranked them 302nd in the country.

Make no mistake, Indiana is a terrific offensive team. But their defense leaves a lot to be desired. And that is the main reason they probably do not stand a chance in the first game against Wichita State—a team we’ll see soon is actually quite underrated entering this tournament.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

1.) Utah Utes (24-8)

Seed: 5

Ken Pom Ranking: 8

Ken Pomeroy’s rankings don’t always translate to NCAA Tournament success. After all, only one team finishes the tournament with a win, and only four will make it to Indianapolis the first weekend in April.

But Larry Krystowiak’s Utah Utes are the most underrated team in this year’s NCAA field, which should have been almost unthinkable prior to the selection committee’s bracket announcement, since Utah was a top-10 for most of the conference season.

And it’s not as if they went down the first day of the Pac-12 tournament. No, it took an incredible buzzer-beater by Oregon’s Joe Young Friday night to defeat them in the semi-finals.

The Utes play a fairly slow-paced game, coming 302nd in possessions per 40 minutes, but make up for it by being the 15th most efficient unit, in no small measure because they shoot 40.4 percent from 3-point range, which ranks them seventh in the country.

Because of that, they are 15th in points per possession at 1.14.

Defensively, they are 11th nationally, allowing just 56.9 points per game on 38.3 percent field goals—which ranks them 10th in the country.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2.) Northern Iowa Panthers (30-3)

Seed: 5

Ken Pom Ranking: 12

We’ll get to this more with our next underrated team, but it appears the selection committee slept on a mid-major team here. We know that being a mid-major is not a death threat to a team’s abilities to make magic in the NCAA Tournament. Just ask Butler, VCU or George Mason (or fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Wichita State).

And it’s not as if the Panthers weren’t outstanding in the regular season. They were. In fact, they shared the conference title with Wichita State in 2015 and won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. So frankly, being seeded as a 5-seed is pretty perplexing.

This is a team which ranked fourth in defensive points per game allowed at just 54.3 and the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the country, at 28.5 per game. They held opponents to 39.1 percent shooting on all field goals.

Not surprisingly their effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage ranked eighth—which means they took good shots, and made them. Sure, much of it was done against sub-par competition, but as we’ve seen that means little once we get to March.

We should know that, given that Ken Pomeroy’s rankings account for strength of schedule. And again, Northern Iowa ranked 12th in the entire NCAA field.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

3.) Wichita State Shockers (28-4)

Seed: 7

Ken Pom Ranking: 14

If the selection committee had one great sin pattern in how they seeded teams in this tournament, it would seem to be an overall lack of respect for mid-major conference teams. Seeding Wyoming 12th makes sense since they would not have been in the field of 68 had they not upset San Diego State on Saturday night in the Mountain West Conference tournament final.

But Wichita State as a 7-seed? Really? Come on! That’s downright disrespectful.

This is a team that spent an overwhelming majority of the 2014-15 campaign ranked in the top-15 nationally, with a good portion of that time within the top-10. It’s also the seventh best team in the country in points per game allowed—just 55.8.

And though they rank fairly low in terms of points per game offensively, much of that is due to playing a slower, controlled pace. Efficiency-wise, they are outstanding—19th in the country in fact at 1.13 points per possession.

And we all know that when March rolls around, a team needs that one guy who can win a game by himself. The Shockers have that guy in the person of Fred Van Fleet. Plus, they of course were darlings last year in making it all the way to the Final Four. So that all-important experience factor favors them too. This is not a team to sleep on, as apparently the committee did.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)


4.) Michigan State Spartans

Seed: 7

Ken Pom Ranking: 17

I’m tempted to throw out the statistics at this point and simply shout with all my might, “BUT TOM IZZO!” And truth be told, that might be all that is necessary to say regarding the Spartans.

But there is more to it than just Izzo, one of the finest March coaches the game has ever seen. As numberFire’s J.J. Zachariason notes here, the Spartans lost five games in overtime this season. That accounts for almost half of their losses—or more accurately, 45.45 percent. Statistically, that represents some bad luck.

Historically, in any sport, teams who suffer that much bad luck for as many games as Michigan State has played, 34, are bound to recover and win a few close games. Reason has it that Izzo’s Spartans will win a few games in this tournament.

After all the Spartans shoot 47.1 percent from the floor and are 34th in effective shooting percentage. The Spartans do not rank in the top-10 nationally of any key categories, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an underrated team.

If anything it just means that Tom Izzo’s team is ready to pounce once again as an underrated team.

(Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)


5.) San Diego State Aztecs (26-8)

Seed: 8

Ken Pom Ranking: 27

Without looking, tell me who the fourth best defensive team in college basketball is. Okay, it’s kind of obvious, it’s Steve Fisher’s San Diego State Aztecs. Using the same metric we use to evaluate NBA defenses in 2015—DRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions)—we see only three teams ahead of the Aztecs: Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina Central.

The Aztecs don’t play incredibly fast, meaning they don’t see as many possessions per game as other teams, but that’s exactly why this statistic is all the more impressive. And the fact they give up only 86.7 points per 100 possessions is probably why they give up the second fewest points per game, 53.1, which is only bettered by Virginia, 50.8.

Now the truth is the Aztecs can’t shoot the ball to save themselves. Their offensive efficiency is atrocious. If you locked them in a gym and had them play against air, I’m not sure they could score 100 points in 40 minutes.

But they’re probably the only team in the country that man for man can match the Kentucky Wildcats’ athleticism. If they are able to get past first round opponent, St. John’s, a likely matchup with the fourth highest scoring team, Duke, is set. The guess here is the Aztecs would be able to hold Duke in the 60s.

The question is whether they can score that many.

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

All in all, after analyzing the brackets, the committee did a solid job. There are no significant snubs. That probably says as much about the quality of teams in college basketball this season.

It also would seem to speak to the felt apathy most fans feel given the likely scenario that the Kentucky Wildcats will easily continue their undefeated season by stomping on opponents and winning by like 80 points every game.

Using the primary ranking system we'll be using to determine overrated and underrated teams in this article -- Ken Pomeroy's rankings -- Colorado State does not have an argument as a snub. In fact, the first team that has even a pinch of discord to cry about is believe or not the Florida Gators.

That, again, tells you all you need to know about the overall strength of this tournament. It is rather top heavy. But make no mistake, the committee seeded teams overall fairly. There have been much worse brackets in the past.

Yet there are some teams who got the benefit of the doubt it seems (overrated) and those who got the shaft a bit (underrated).

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