The first NCAA Tournament committee rankings were released last weekend as we move quickly toward Selection Sunday. Fans and experts alike anticipate that moment each year, but bettors generally should ignore rankings of these types.
Teams’ true strengths and capabilities of winning a national championship are better reflected in the title odds offered by sportsbooks or in the strength ratings of people like me, who analyze key data points daily.
Too often, simply wins and losses go into determining committee rankings.
The quality of wins is minimized somewhat — as are the effects of rigorous schedules, injuries and the impact of recent play. So here, from a more analytical vantage point, are some important things to know about the teams at or near the top as the stretch run heats up:
- Michigan State figures to be the most undervalued team in the country. Having not even landed in the AP poll this week, the Spartans’ tournament potential is clearly being overlooked. They are No. 16 in the tournament committee’s numbers, meaning they would be a tough out for the overall No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16. Coach Tom Izzo’s team was looked at as one of the top title contenders at the outset of the season. The Spartans have battled injuries and a brutal Big Ten schedule, and several close losses are affecting their resume. But Izzo always has his team ready come March, and with a floor general such as Cassius Winston leading the charge, this to me is the best title wager at 15/1 at William Hill.
- Baylor is the top overall seed and is riding a 21-game winning streak, yet my numbers and the oddsmakers don’t view the Bears quite as favorably. In fact, they aren’t even the best team in their conference in that regard. This team doesn’t really have a star or a point guard who seems capable of leading a title run. Their strengths don’t match up well with those of recent champions either. At this point, I’ll need to see a lot more to believe Baylor has what it takes to cut down the nets.
- Though it’s generally believed the blue bloods are having down seasons, Kansas and Duke seem to be putting things together at the right time to make deep runs. The Jayhawks are ranked No. 1 in my current Effective Strength Ratings and beat West Virginia 58-49 on Wednesday, and the Blue Devils are No. 3. These are always very important numbers in terms of capability of reaching the Final Four. Each year for the tournament, I cut the rating at top six as having the best shot at March success.
Other teams that rank in that top six category for Effective Strength are Gonzaga (second), Michigan State (fourth), West Virginia (fifth) and Baylor (sixth). Gonzaga is a legitimate title contender, and the Mountaineers could be a true surprise team at 18/1 odds.
- Some contenders not on the committee’s ranking list boast top-16 strength ratings, according to my numbers. Kentucky is No. 8 in my Bettors Ratings, meaning the betting markets generally see the Wildcats as a top-10 team yet, making them dangerously underrated. Texas Tech, Penn State, BYU and Arizona are other teams whose stats look better than their perceptions.