What would the perfect bracket for Kansas look like?
It’s a question I pondered while looking at the latest Bracketology on ESPN.
As you may or may not know, the Jayhawks were projected as a No. 3 seed in the West regional. If all the seeds held correctly (and KU continued winning), the Jayhawks would face 14th-seeded Weber State, sixth-seeded Gonzaga, second-seeded Michigan State and top-seeded Pittsburgh.
But what teams should KU want to have in its bracket? In other words, what teams would KU match up best against?
To answer this question, I started by trying to figure out what type of teams KU has struggled against this season.
If the Jayhawks could avoid the teams that take away their strengths, in theory, they would have the best chance of advancing in the tournament.
I came up with two types of teams that KU has struggled against this season: teams that defend three-pointers well and teams that force a lot of turnovers.
Here’s some statistical backup: KU, which has made 38.0 percent of its three-pointers this season, has shot 33.3 percent or worse in seven games. In those games (UMKC, Washington, Syracuse, UMass, Michigan State, home vs. Colorado, Missouri), the Jayhawks are 3-4.
Though KU doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, it does struggle when it can’t get outside shots to go down.KU also has had problems with turnovers, especially as of late. In the Jayhawks’ last four games, they have averaged 18.8 turnovers per outing.
Perhaps the most damaging part of the turnovers is what happens on the other end.There have been 10 games this season when the opposition has scored 15 points or more off KU’s turnovers. In those games (Syracuse, New Mexico State, UMass, Arizona, Tennessee, Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Missouri, at Kansas State), the Jayhawks are 6-4.
Thus, at least statistically, KU seems to be more likely to lose against teams that defend the three-pointer well and also force a lot of turnovers.
Using statistics from Kenpom.com, I set out to figure out which teams would be best for KU to play in the tournament, based on their three-point percentage defense and also their turnover-percentage defense (the percentage of defensive possessions that the team forces turnovers). I gave each statistic equal weight when evaluating.
I also used the seeds in the latest Bracketology for this illustration and assumed there were no upsets in KU’s bracket.
Let’s start with the first round.
First round Potential No. 14 seeds — Weber State, Vermont, American, North Dakota State.
The best matchup for KU: North Dakota State (264th turnover-percentage defense, 256th three-point percentage defense). Though the Bison have won 11 of their last 12 and are up to 60th in the KenPom rankings, they struggle in the aforementioned statistics.*
* — I do want to make a note that Buffalo is looming around as a No. 13 seed. Not only would the Bulls fit into the dreaded, B-school, B-mascot, mid-major conference, first-round opponent category (See Bison, Bucknell and Braves, Bradley), they also could provide a tough matchup, ranking 105th in turnover percentage and 139th in three-point percentage defense. Just something to keep in mind.
The worst matchup for KU: Vermont (56th turnover-percentage defense, 196th three-point percentage defense). The Catamounts force 16.5 turnovers per game.
Second round Potential No. 6 seeds — Gonzaga, Syracuse, Tennessee, California.
The best matchup for KU: California (235th turnover-percentage defense, 187th three-point percentage defense). The Bears average only 4.9 steals per game, which is next-to-last in the Pac 10.
The worst matchup for KU: Tennessee (155th turnover-percentage defense, 121st three-point percentage defense). The Volunteers forced 17 turnovers and scored 27 points off those turnovers in their first matchup with the Jayhawks. KU still prevailed, 92-85, with a strong effort by Sherron Collins and help from the home crowd.Interestingly, Syracuse is not good at forcing turnovers (309th) but great at defending the three (10th, 29.9 percent). The Jayhawks were 8-for-24 from three (33.3 percent) in the first game against the Orange.
Sweet 16 Potential No. 2 seeds — Memphis, Michigan State, Louisville, Wake Forest.
The best matchup for KU: Michigan State (191st turnover-percentage defense, 85th three-point percentage defense). MSU’s opponents average 13.9 turnovers per game; KU had 12 turnovers in the first half of an 75-62 loss against the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 10.
The worst matchup for KU: Memphis (46th turnover-percentage defense, 24th three-point percentage defense). This would be one of the worst matchups for KU in the tournament field, according to our formula.
Elite Eight Potential No. 1 seeds — Oklahoma, North Carolina, Connecticut, Pittsburgh.
The best matchup for KU: Oklahoma (268th turnover-percentage defense, 172nd three-point percentage defense). OU does a lot of things well offensively, but the Sooners don’t force many turnovers. In fact, OU’s opponents average just 13.3 turnovers per game, which is third-worst in the Big 12.
The worst matchup for KU: North Carolina (141st turnover-percentage defense, 129th three-point percentage defense). Not only would this be a nightmare of a chore defensively for KU, the numbers show that KU wouldn’t match up well offensively against the Tar Heels, either.
In case you were wondering, here are the most dangerous potential tournament teams I could find that could go up against KU, according to the formula:
• West Virginia (13th turnover-percentage defense, second three-point percentage defense)
• Missouri (seventh turnover-percentage defense, 13th three-point percentage defense)
• Akron* (second turnover-percentage defense, 37th three-point percentage defense)
• Duke (25th turnover-percentage defense, 67th three-point percentage defense)
• Illinois (90th turnover-percentage defense, sixth three-point percentage defense)
* — Akron is not listed in the latest Bracketology tournament field.