Picking the perfect bracket for KU


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, 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.


zissou 9 years, 3 months ago

Jesse always puts some thought and obvious time into these pieces. I appreciate the work that goes into it.

kumax77 9 years, 3 months ago

zissou, I agree with you. Jesse- you definitely have a future in broadcasting or as a sportswriter. Good thing, cuz looks like its your chosen profession!

I always appreciate your comments during spodcasts, video, or on "paper". Good stuff. Good to see some up- and- coming talent reporting on the 'hawks.

Joe Joseph 9 years, 3 months ago

Yes! I am totally picking Kansas to win it all!!

Greg Lux 9 years, 3 months ago

I have to laugh a little at some of this. Common sense says any team would have trouble against a team that keeps them from making 3 pointers and cause more turnovers .. So much for the Rocket Science. I think KU would do well against a team who presses full court and guards the three line in the post season since we are handling the ball a lot better of late ( we learned a lot about that in the MU game ) and are attacking the basket against the press giving us a number of 2 on 1 opportunities to get easy points. With Little playing better and the Morris twins improving every game our inside offense plus rebounding would improve with a spread defense to stop our 3 point offense. I think our biggest weakness is teams with speed at the guard position that likes to penetrate since we have shown a weakness for stopping this type of team. We need to keep Cole in the game and this is where he can get fouls easily. Also teams that packs it in can cause us problems unless we can shoot them out of that defense by making our 3's. We have the talent to make them we just need to get the right people taking the right shots at the right time. Forcing the ball into a packed defense has been a fault of this team in the past and we must adjust when its open outside even when we would like to go inside. KU is not the team that played in late 2008. We are much better now at every position and we can compete with almost any team in the tournament. Rock Chalk ..

Tony Bandle 9 years, 3 months ago

I truly think this was an exercise in playful dreaming and fantasy. From this year's team of August, who many wouldn't have been totally surprised if KU had struggled to qualify for the tournament to this same squad in February, actually charting a path to the title game is a quantum leap of biblical proportions...and I love it!!!!

What did everybody say when David stepped up in front of Goliath..."Bet on the big guy!!"

The '69 Mets had no business being in the World Series.

Who invited Joe Namath to the Super Bowl. What a loud mouth.

Danny Manning and a bunch of no names won't have a prayer against Billy Tubbs future 1988 National Championship Sooners.

We are...Basketball"s Beginning We are...the National Champions We are...KU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Omegatron 9 years, 3 months ago

This article is pretty much useless at this point in time.

All the above mentioned teams have at least 5-6 games remaining plus their respective tournaments.

All of it is relevant to seed and region.

KU might not even be in the same bracket or region one week, two weeks, or even the opening day of the Big 12 tournament.

Every other team on the list is in the same boat.

Great to dream what could be if the season ended now. But now won't be a month from now.

Please rewrite this sometime in March, say around March 11th when the Big 12 Tourney is going on.

Eurekahwk 9 years, 3 months ago

Stats don't mean anything, because teams don't play the same schedules. You don't look at offense vs defense like that. It doesn't work that way. That is the same thing as comparing scores. And what did Mangino say about comparing scores? That's a slippery slope. You compare matchups. I resent the idea that we don't match up with UNC. Bill Self always matches up against Roy Williams. You remember that for future reference. We are talking about hardball vs softball. We match man for man with anyone in the country, especially this year, even if they are young.

DDSF 9 years, 3 months ago

I like the article, as I think its good to look at teams the the 'Hawks struggle against, but these teams play different styles all around.

Michigan State plays in the Big 10 and while they are the "best" matchup by the numbers, the Big 10's slower style of play means less possessions and there fore less turnovers.

Same train of thought goes for Memphis. They play a fairly up tempo game (just like Tennessee, who KU beat) and would be just as prone to turnovers.

I mean look at the Mizzou game. KU turned it over 25+ times and still only lost on a last seconds shot. That's because they were able to force a ton of turnovers too. I would take KU's chances against any up tempo team in the tourney. Especially with the improvement of the Morris' and potential improvement of Tyshawn, who is a blur!

jchawkfan 9 years, 3 months ago

I have this weird feeling that no matter what happens we end up in the same bracket as N. Carolina. Unless of course we go on a monstrous run and end up with a #1 seed, which I guess is not impossible, but unlikely. I just have a feeling certain people will want to see KU and UNC back in the ring together ASAP. Just a feeling.

zissou 9 years, 3 months ago

I don't see this article as being useless this early in the season — it's Bracketology in general that earns that notation. This piece has a little fun with the "science" of Lunardi's projections, and I'm all for that. Anything that makes March seem closer is OK in my books.

Just imagine if this had been put together by Keegan, an aimless, factless dribble of nonsense vaguely covered by something that resembles opinion.

chalmers4thetie 9 years, 3 months ago

i have a feeling the jayhawks will make a pretty sweet run in the tournament

sevenyearhawk 9 years, 3 months ago


good article, you obviously did your research ...

No matter what happens, this season sure has been a surprising one for most Jayhawk fans!

Scott Smetana 9 years, 3 months ago

Good researched based on 3 point defense and turnovers. However, i feel like we're in trouble against a team with 1 huge man or 2 big men. ala Michigan St. and Arizona.
For us to compete against multiple bigs, we need the twins to get big quick.
PS - I'd play memphis anyday.. Bring them on!! N. Carolina? No thanks.

actorman 9 years, 3 months ago

"the Big 10's slower style of play means less possessions and there fore less turnovers."

DDSF, you clearly missed the point that Jesse didn't list teams by number of turnovers caused, but by turnover-PERCENTAGE defense. So the style of play has no influence whatsoever on the statistics. If there are fewer possessions and fewer turnovers, the number would be adjusted accordingly, based on what PERCENTAGE of those possessions MSU causes turnovers.

Herd 9 years, 3 months ago

If KU wants to play a senior led team with something to prove, with one of the few point guards in the country that is better than your guy, who has 4 guys who shoot the lights out from 3 point range, who doesn't often get out-rebounded, and just knows how to win . . . then yeah, you might want to play ND State.

Be careful what you ask for. The only place you'll want ND State is in another bracket!

Jesse Newell 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow. Guess my theory is going to get tested.

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