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Which NCAA Tournament Teams Are Most Similar to Oklahoma State?

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I looked back at all NCAA Tournament teams from 2002 – present (all 1,061 of them) to find the teams that are most statistically similar to this year’s OSU team.

I calculated the similarity scores using each team’s KenPom rating, offensive efficiency, and defensive efficiency (all are adjusted for opponent strength). So each of these teams will have a statistical profile similar to the 2017 Cowboys which looks like this:

  • KenPom ranking: No. 24 (pretty good)
  • Offensive Efficiency: No. 1 (excellent)
  • Defensive Efficiency: No. 133 (yuck)

In analyzing this list of teams, the first thing that jumped out at me was that most of them were seeded higher – many of them much higher – than our 10-seed 2017 Cowboys. Why? It’s pretty simple: teams that have this statistical profile tended to win more games that OSU did this year. The 0-6 start to the conference schedule (and 0-3 finish) really hurt this team in terms of seeding.

Teams most statistically similar to the 2017 OSU Cowboys:

2014 Creighton (3 seed): Doug McDermott & co had the No. 2 offense in the country in 2014 – and the No. 125 defense. They lost by 30 to Baylor in the 2nd round.

2014 Duke (3 seed): In 32 appearances (!!), Coach K has lost in the first round only 4 times (!!). This was one of them. Duke lost to Mercer by 7 in their opening game.

2014 Michigan (2 seed): This young Michigan team (McGary, Stauskas, LeVert, and Robinson were all sophomores) breezed through the first weekend, beat Tennessee by 2, then lost to national runner-up Kentucky by 3 in the Elite Eight.

2017 UCLA (3 seed): TBD; you have to wonder how many wins Lonzo Ball and Co. would have had this year if they played in the Big 12 instead of the 6th-best conference.

2017 Marquette (10 seed): TBD; fellow 10-seed Marquette has an excellent offense, highlighted by the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country at 43.0%.

2017 Michigan (7 seed): TBD; yes – out of the 1,061 teams I looked at, our opponent on Friday is the 6th most similar to our current team. Pretty crazy. Michigan was every bit as efficient as OSU was offensively in conference play – and their defense was slightly better.

Still, the best team in the Big 10 is a 4-seed, so I think it’s reasonable to wonder how battle tested the Wolverines are.

2015 Notre Dame (3 seed): Jerian Grant led the Irish to the Elite 8, losing to the Kentucky team that brought a 34-0 record into the big dance and eventually lost to Wisconsin in the Final 4.

2017 Wake Forest (11 seed): TBDDanny Manning’s squad bears some striking resemblances to OSU: 9-9 in conference play in one of the best conferences in America, capable of playing with the best teams in the country, has a penchant for scoring 90 points and losing.

2016 Duke (4 seed): Last year’s Blue Devils lost a Sweet 16 matchup against Oregon.

2016 Notre Dame (6 seed): Last year’s Irish lost in the Elite Eight to UNC, but not before beating Michigan, Brad Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin by a single point, and Wisconsin.

As with almost all analysis in the NCAA Tournament, it’s difficult to draw a statistically significant result from this. Some teams did well, others did poorly. That’s the beauty of a single-elimination tournament where the best team doesn’t always win.

I thought it would be fun to see what 2017 tournament teams are most similar to old OSU teams. Maybe we can find a doppelganger for the 2004 Final Four team.

2017 tournament teams most similar to old OSU teams:

2002 OSU (lost to Kent State in 1st rd): South Carolina – 10 seed, East

2003 OSU (lost to Syracuse in 2nd rd): South Carolina – 10 seed, East

2004 OSU (lost to Georgia Tech in Final Four): Virginia – 5 seed, East

2005 OSU (lost to Arizona in Sweet 16): Purdue – 4 seed, Midwest

2009 OSU (lost to Pitt in 2nd rd): K-State – 11 seed, South

2010 OSU (lost to Georgia Tech in 1st rd): Minnesota – 5 seed, South

2013 OSU (lost to Oregon in 1st rd): South Carolina – 10 seed, East

2014 OSU (lost to Gonzaga in 1st rd): Creighton – 6 seed, Midwest

2015 OSU (lost to Oregon in 1st rd): VCU – 10 seed, West

A note on that 2004 match: Virginia is loved by KenPom more than the selection committee – they are 7th in his system, and they have the No. 1 defense in the country. They only managed a 11-7 record in conference play, which looks quite a bit different than the 2004 Cowboys. Still, it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers compare to Eddie’s last Final Four team.

Finally, three of our former teams (2002, 2003, 2013) match most closely to South Carolina. That team fits the profile of the Eddie teams without NBA talent (and a Travis Ford team with a future lottery pick): great defense – South Carolina is No. 3 in the country in defense – coupled with an average offense. The 2003 Cowboys that could have taken down eventual champ Syracuse in 2nd round were the best defensive team we’ve seen since 2002: 0.849 points per possession.

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