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March Madness Final Four Picks - Key Metrics for Picking Every Regional Winner

Miami Could Fare Very, Very Well Presuming that the Canes are Healthy

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Sweet 16 - Iowa State v Miami (Fl) Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Good morning Canes fans and welcome to March Madness 2023!

This morning we’re serving up a spicy dish of hot take picks to advance to this year’s Final Four. Starting with setting the table of critical criteria to be considered: tournament seeding, Net ranking, conference tournament success, previous season success, and team statistics. These are all considered in the context of Final Four participants from 2018 to 2022. What were the signs that Chicago-Loyola could make the Final Four? What distinguishes a worthy top 4 seed from a fraud?

Next, each region is analyzed for which top 4 seeds are a favorite and which is most overrated, as well as a dark horse (5 to 11 seed) to come out of each region.

All of which includes a discussion of where Miami fits in with the metrics and its opponents.

Criteria for Prognosticating

NCAA Tournament Seeds

Let’s start simple enough. What seeded teams typically make the Final Four?

  • 2022 - Kansas (1), Duke (2), Villanova (2), North Carolina (8).
  • 2021 - Gonzaga (1), Baylor (1), Houston (2), UCLA (11)
  • 2019 - Virginia (1), Michigan State (2), Texas Tech (3), Auburn (5)
  • 2018 - Kansas (1), Villanova (1), Michigan (3), Loyola Chicago (11)

You should notice two clear patterns.

First is that three of the four teams were no worse than a three seed, with at least one team being a one seed.

Second, and more importantly for Canes fans, there’s always a fourth team with a five seed or worse carrying the March Madness flag. In fact, the lowest seeded Final Four team has been a fifth seed or worse for over a decade: 2017 (South Carolina, 7 seed); 2016 (Syracuse, 10 seed); 2015 (Michigan State, 7 seed); 2014 (Kentucky, 8 seed); and 2013 (Wichita State, 9 seed) all followed suit. Even in 2012 the lowest seed was fourth seeded Louisville. You have to travel back to 2009 to find the last time the Final Four featured all three seeds or better (North Carolina, 1; Connecticut, 1; Michigan St., 2; and Villanova, 3).

Could the fifth seeded Hurricanes be this year’s March Madness representative to the Final Four?

Prediction: At least one 1 seed makes the Final Four, and one of the Final Four participants is a 5 to 11 seed.

Confidence: Very Strong

NET Ranking Records

The Net Rankings supplanted the RPI system as the NCAA’s preferred metric starting with the 2018-2019 season. The rankings divide every victory into quadrants based on the strength of the opponent and whether the game was home, away, or neutral.

Let’s slice the Net Rankings three ways: the overall ranking at the end of season; the record against elite (Quad 1) competition; and the team’s ability to avoid bad (Quad 3 and 4) losses.

End of Season NET Ranking

  • 2022 - Kansas (No. 6), Villanova (No. 7), Duke (No. 13), North Carolina (No. 31)
  • 2021 - Gonzaga (No. 1), Baylor (No. 2), Houston (No. 5), UCLA (No. 46)
  • 2019 - Virginia (No. 1), Michigan State (No. 8), Texas Tech (No. 10), Auburn (No. 18)

Quad 1 Records

  • 2022 - Kansas (11-5), Duke (6-2), Villanova (7-6), North Carolina (3-8)
  • 2021 - Gonzaga (8-0), Baylor (8-2), Houston (2-1), UCLA (2-6)
  • 2019 - Virginia (12-3), Michigan State (13-4), Texas Tech (8-5), Auburn (5-7)

Quad 3 + 4 Records

  • 2022 - Kansas (12-0), Villanova (9-0), Duke (16-1), North Carolina (18-1)
  • 2021 - Gonzaga (12-0), Baylor (12-0), Houston (15-1), UCLA (12-0)
  • 2019 - Virginia (13-0), Michigan State (9-0), Texas Tech (10-1), Auburn (8-0)

Personally, I don’t think the Net Rankings offer a strong correlation for Final Four picks. At most, this tells a story that those top three seed teams all have winning Quad 1 records and no Final Four team has suffered more than 1 bad loss. But, the Net rankings have only been around for a few years, and these seem to skew in favor of strong mid majors that steam roll their conference competition, such as Houston and Gonzaga.

Miami’s Net Ranking matches up alright. The Hurricanes finished the season ranked No. 35, with a 5-5 record in Quad 1 games and a combined 14-2 record in Quad 3 + 4 games. That late season FSU loss really hurt their Net Ranking resume. It’s frankly frustrating that many of their ACC opponents have low ratings - Duke (No. 16) and Virginia (No. 27) are the only ACC teams ranked higher than Miami. The Hurricanes fall just outside the predictive pattern, but this pattern doesn’t seem too strong.

Prediction: The top three-seeded teams in the Final Four will have winning Quad 1 records, while the fourth team will have no fewer than one Quad 3 or 4 loss.

Confidence: Weak

Conference Champions

Another theory is that champions of conference tournaments are battle tested and haven proven capable of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

  • 2022 - Kansas (won Big XII tournament); Duke (lost in ACC finals); Villanova (lost in Big East quarter finals); North Carolina (lost in ACC semifinals)
  • 2021 - Gonzaga (won WCC championship); Houston (won AAC championship); Baylor (lost in Big XII semifinals); UCLA (lost in Pac 12 quarterfinals)
  • 2019 - Auburn (won SEC championship); Michigan State (won Big Ten championship); Virginia (lost in ACC semifinals); Texas Tech (lost in Big XII quarterfinals)
  • 2018 - Villanova (won Big East championship); Michigan (won Big Ten championship); Kansas (won Big XII championship); Chicago-Loyola (won Missouri Valley championship)

I frankly see zero correlation between winning a conference tournament and making a deep run. Sure, in 2018 the Final Four was all conference champions. But then last year only one conference champion made the Final Four, and the year before only mid-major champions made the Final Four. I suppose on average about two of the Final Four participants are conference champions, but that’s statistically expected considering that 36 of the 68 teams are conference champions.

Consider also that there are numerous examples of conference champions flaming out early. Last year, Virginia Tech ended the season on fire winning 9 of 11 regular season games and the ACC tournament. The Hookies lost in the first round to Texas. Two years ago, Big XII tournament champion Texas was upset by the No. 14 seed Abilene Christian while ACC tournament champion Georgia Tech fell to No. 8 see Chicago Loyola. If anything, there might be a slight correlation between low seed tournament champions and early round losses. As such, the fact that Miami lost in the ACC semifinals shouldn’t matter much at all.

Prediction: About half the Final Four will be conference tournament champions

Confidence: Very Weak (but statistically accurate)

Success in Last Year’s Tournament

What about redemption? Could it be that the previous year’s success or failures could predict a Final Four run?

  • 2022 - Kansas (3 Seed, 2nd Round exit); Villanova (5 seed, Elite 8 exit); North Carolina (8 seed, 1st round exit); Duke (missed tournament)
  • 2021 - previous year cancelled due to Covid
  • 2019 - Texas Tech (3 seed, Elite 8 exit); Auburn (4 seed, 2nd round exit); Michigan State (3 seed, 2nd round exit); Virginia (missed tournament)
  • 2018 - Kansas (1 seed, Elite 8 exit); Villanova (1 seed, second round exit); Michigan (7 seed, Sweet 16 exit); Chicago-Loyola (missed tournament)

Again, not much of a correlation. If anything, this should illustrate just how hard it is to go to back-to-back Final Fours yet alone to repeat as national champions. This sample admittedly suffers from some recency bias. Although there hasn’t been a back-to-back Final Four participant since 2016-2017 (North Carolina), from 2000-2017 there were 13 teams that accomplished the feat, or about one team per year.

There’s nothing wrong with Miami having Elite 8 experience, but it seems unlikely that should affect selecting your bracket.

Prediction: None, or maybe one, of last year’s Final Four teams are back this year.

Confidence: Very Weak

Team Stats - Elite in at Least One Category

Next, let’s take a dive through the team statistics. Here’s each team’s highest rated regular season statistic:

  • 2022: Villanova - No. 1 in Free throw percentage (.830); North Carolina - No. 5 in Rebounds per game (41.3); Duke - No. 9 in blocks per game (5.62); Kansas - No. 19 in field goal percentage (.478)
  • 2021: Baylor - No. 1 in three point field goal percentage (.413); Gonzaga - No. 2 in assists per game (18.8); Houston - No. 3 in offensive rebounds per game (14.3); UCLA - No. 13 in fewest turnovers per game (10.5)
  • 2019: Michigan State - No. 3 in assists per game (18.3); Auburn - No. 4 in steals per game (9.22); Virginia - No. 7 in three point field goal percentage (.395); Texas Tech - No. 16 in blocks per game (4.89)
  • 2018: Michigan - No. 2 in fewest turnovers per game (9.24); Loyola Chicago - No. 3 in field goal percentage (.507); Kansas - No. 12 in three point field goal percentage (.401); Villanova - No. 9 in free throw percentage (.779)

Every single Final Four team was elite at something. Every single Final Four team had some sort of identity that it could latch onto in a tough game. Getting turnovers, protecting the rim, hitting free throws, getting high percentage shots. Everyone was at least top 20 in something, and most were top 10. This includes those low-seed entrants.

Fortunately, Miami ranks in the top 15 in two team statistics. The Hurricanes finished this season 13th in free throw percentage (.776) and 14th in field goal percentage (.486). They take good shots and (apparently with the exception of FSU) hit free throws to maintain leads.

Prediction: Each Final Four team will be ranked in the Top 20 in at least one key statistical category

Confidence: Very Strong

Team Advanced Stats - Offensive Rating

There’s one key, advanced statistic that really popped out in reviewing recent Final Four teams: offensive efficiency rating:

  • 2022: Duke (No. 5, 117.0); Villanova (No. 19, 112.5); Kansas (No. 21, 111.5); North Carolina (No. 38, 109.7)
  • 2021: Gonzaga (No. 1, 121.5); Baylor (No. 2, 118.7); Houston (No. 5 115.7); UCLA (No. 54, 108.4)
  • 2019: Virginia (No. 4, 116.3); Auburn (No. 10, 114.1); Michigan State (No. 15, 113.1); Texas Tech (No. 107, 106.9)
  • 2018: Villanova (No. 1, 122.3); Kansas (No. 12, 115.5); Michigan (No. 51, 111.0); Loyola-Chicago (No. 95, 108.6)

Almost every participant had a reasonably strong offensive efficiency rating. From 2019-2022, all but the outlier participants finished with a 21 rank or higher. Also 14 out of 16 participants had roughly 50 ranking or higher. Take it all together, and three of the four teams should have good if not elite offensive ratings.

Fortunately, Miami hits the mark on this metric. The Hurricanes finished with an impressive No. 8 offensive efficiency rating this season.

Prediction: The three highest rated seeds will strong if note elite offensive efficiency ratings, and no Final Four team will be below ~ 100 ranking in offensive efficiency

Confidence: Strong

Final Four Predictions

To recap, these predictions are targeting the following metrics:

  • Three teams seeded one to three seed with a fourth outlier seed between 5 to 11 and probably 6 to 8 - Very Strong confidence
  • Each team to be very strong, if not elite, in at least one statistical category - Very Strong confidence
  • Each team to have a strong offense efficiency rating, and be no worse than Top 100-ish - Strong confidence
  • Each team to have generally avoided multiple bad (Quad 3 + 4) losses, and most teams to have winning records against elite competition (Quad 1) - Weak confidence

And we don’t care at all about what happened last year or in the conference tournament. Now, let’s run through each region with one favorite team, one overrated (top 4 seed) team, and one dark horse (5 to 11 seed) team to reach the Final Four.

South Region

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship Arizona vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Favorite: Arizona (2 seed), +425 on Draft Kings to win region

Over Rated: Virginia (4 seed), +1500 on Draft Kings to win region

Dark Horse: Missouri (7 seed), +4000 on Draft Kings to win region

Alabama (+170) is deservedly the No. 1 overall seed and the Tide hit several metrics. They are best in the nation in rebounding (44.4 rpg), No. 13 in blocking (5.06 bpg), and have an impressive 13-5 Quad 1 record with no Quad 3 + 4 losses.

Arizona is equally impressive in Net ranking wins with a 9-2 Quad 1 record and no Quad 3 + 4 losses. They are also moving the ball well, averaging 19.2 assists per game good for second in the nation.

Baylor (+550), the 3 seed, is also worthy of favorite consideration. They have the No. 2 rated offense efficiency, but they’re not elite in any particular statistical category. They are best at three point field goals (.372), but even that’s only 35th in the nation.

Arizona gets the nod because of their No. 4 ranking in offensive efficiency whereas Alabama checks in at No. 19, a bit low for a top overall seed. You also can’t discount the monstrous distraction that is SEC Player of the Year Brandon Miller’s involvement in a murder investigation.

Virginia gets tagged as overrated because of their very low offensive efficiency rating (No. 76, 111.1) and general limp towards the finish line. They do take care of the ball though, averaging only 8.56 turnovers per game, good for No. 2 in the nation.

Creighton (+750) is the popular dark horse pick for this region. The Blue Jays were an early season Final Four favorite before a mid-season cold streak dropped them out of the rankings. They’ve rebounded well picking up multiple, quality wins in Big East play towards the end of the season. They check in with a No. 27 offensive efficiency rating (114.7) and a No. 23 ranking for assists per game (15.9).

My dark horse choice is Missouri. The 7 seed has a top ten offense efficiency coupled with No. 3 in steals per game, and No. 21 in assists per game. Swarming defense and good ball distribution in a March recipe for success. The Tigers also fit the ideal Net Ranking profile with no quad 3 + 4 losses and a 6-9 Quad 1 record whereas Creighton has a worse 3-9 Quad 1 record.

All my favorites (Arizona, Baylor, Creighton, Missouri) are consolidated in the bottom half of this region. Meanwhile on the top of the bracket, a distracted Alabama team has a good chance of faltering to either Maryland or San Diego State. Maryland has had trouble on the road, and this is basically a road game for them. Aztecs are more likely to get the job done in the Sweet 16. One region needs a dark horse contender to prevail, and this region is a very good candidate. While this could be a chaotic region, I’m picking Arizona to push through the Madness.

South Region Prediction: Arizona (2) over San Diego State (5)

East Region

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Marquette Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Favorite: Marquette (2 seed), +400 on Draft Kings to win region

Over Rated: Tennessee (3 seed), +425 on Draft Kings to win region

Dark Horse: None

All four top seeds have winning Quad 1 records, and only Marquette has a single Quad 3 loss. So Net Rankings won’t separate out the top seeds in this region.

The favorite versus overrated picture gets a little clearer with offense efficiency. Purdue (+220) and Marquette are both top 10 in efficiency (119.3) while Tennessee and Kansas St. (+1000) are ranked 47th and 50th, respectively.

Purdue may have the best player in the region in the towering Zach Edey, but even with a 7 foot 4 inch mountain patrolling the paint the Boilermakers are only rank 23rd in rebounds per game (38.6). Meanwhile, Marquette is ranked 4th in assists per game (17.6), 9th in steals per game (9.41), and 12th in field goal percentage (.487). Notably, Purdue beat Marquette 75-70, but I doubt the Golden Eagles would go scoreless for four of the final five minutes in a rematch like they did last November.

Kansas State and Tennessee are very similar, not only in their offensive efficiency ranking but also in that their best statistic is assists per game, and Tennessee is 10th while Kansas St. is 11th. Tennessee gets designated overrated simply because of their unjustifiably high odds to come out of the region.

Duke (+750) and Kentucky (+1000) are the popular dark horse selections for this region. I prefer the Wildcats to the Blue Devils because of Kentucky’s No. 14 offense efficiency and No. 5 rank in offensive rebounds per game. Also, Duke squarely fits the profile of the last two ACC conference champions as late blooming middle seeds - Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech - and both those teams fell in the first round. However, I frankly don’t like either team coming out of the South. Though Kentucky is slightly better, they carry 3 losses in the Quad 3 + 4 column. One loss sure, two losses might be ok, but three suggests they’re quite vulnerable to an upset. Last year, nobody with even two losses made it to the second weekend.

I really wanted to show some love to the 9 seed FAU Owls (+2000), but none of their stats jump out as meriting a dark horse tab. By comparison, Loyola-Chicago was No. 3 in field goal percentage in 2018, yet FAU is only 37th in field goal percentage. They’re missing that elite statistic, which should be there in a weak conference if they’re truly capable of making a run.

Ultimately, there are no justifiable dark horses in this region. It’ll be Marquette or Purdue advancing from the South. I’m picking Shaka Smart to make his first Final Four.

East Region Final Prediction: Marquette (2) over Purdue (1)

West Region

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship - Kansas vs Texas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Favorite: Kansas (1 seed), +350 on Draft Kings to win region

Over Rated: UCLA (2 seed), +275 on Draft Kings to win region

Dark Horse: TCU (6 seed), +1200 on Draft Kings to win region

The defending champion Jayhawks have all the metrics to return to the Final Four and yet they have the lowest odds of any 1 seed. They’ve have a nation best 17 Quad 1 wins without any Quad 3 + 4 losses. Their statistical rankings are virtually the same as last year’s championship team. The Jayhawks are No. 16 in assists, No. 21 in steals, and No. 29 in offense efficiency.

I don’t understand UCLA’s hype. They are dealing with serious injuries to Jaylen Clark, a national defensive player of the year finalist, and Adem Bona, the Pac 12 freshman of the year. They’re a defensive team missing two of their best defenders. By the way, even though they’re a defensive team their best statistical ranking is 29th in steals (8.44 per game). The Bruins are not only over rated, but they’re my most over rated team in the whole tournament.

Gonzaga (+400), the 3 seed, sports respectable metrics including the number 1 offensive efficiency in the nation, but I’m perpetually skeptical of the Zags and the stats they generate in their WCC schedule. Their non-conference wins this year over Alabama, Xavier, Kentucky, and Michigan State were offset by their losses to Purdue, Baylor, and Texas. That’s still a pretty strong non-conference run.

UConn (+400) is also a trendy pick out of this region. The Huskies have the No. 6 offensive efficiency in the much tougher Big East conference. They also are ranked 6th in offensive rebounds per game (13.5) and 7th in assists per game (17.3).

Kansas, Gonzaga, and UConn are all very strong contenders to come out of this region, but TCU is my dark horse. Their offensive efficiency is only 53rd, but they’re a tough defensive team ranked 26th in blocks per game (4.73). Notably, their leading scorer Mike Miles Jr. missed several games but is starting to come back into form.

Even though TCU is my dark horse, I don’t see them getting past Gonzaga and Drew Timme. Zags make the Elite 8, but Kansas advances out of this region. The metrics demand at least one number 1 seed advance, and the defending champions are my choice to fill the spot and break a seven year drought of back-to-back Final Four participants.

West Prediction: Kansas (1) over Gonzaga (3)

Midwest Region

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Miami vs Wake Forest Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Favorite: Houston (1 seed), +160 on Draft Kings to win region

Over Rated: Indiana (4 seed), +1200 on Draft Kings to win region

Dark Horse: Miami (5 seed), +1400 on Draft Kings to win region

Yes, I saved the Hurricanes’ region for last...

Houston is the 1 seed and the favorite in the region. Like Gonzaga, they’re tough to measure playing in a weaker conference. They do have the best Net ranking, with a 7-2 Quad 1 record only one Quad 3 + 4 loss. They’re ranked No. 11 in offensive efficiency. Their best stats are also in categories I’d expect for a weak conference team, namely No. 14 in fewest turnovers and No. 17 in offensive rebounds.

Texas (+300) is a strong candidate to come out of this region. The Big XII tournament champions finished No. 20 in assists per game (16.1) and 18th in adjust offensive efficiency (116.5) despite playing in the toughest conference in the nation. Xavier (+700) is a respectable 3 seed with a No. 8 offensive efficiency ranking and 9-6 Quad 1 record.

Indiana is my pick as overrated. They have a losing Quad 1 record (6-9) and a mediocre offensive efficiency ranking (28), though they are 10th in field goal percentage (.489) and 15th in blocks per game (4.94). The Quad 1 record is really what gets me though. Their claim to fame is sweeping No. 1 seed Purdue in the regular season. An impressive feat no doubt, but they were frequently not competitive - losing 80-65 to Michigan State, 85-66 to Penn State, and 63-48 to Rutgers. Trayce Jackson-Davis may be a first team All American, but he’s operating a very Jekyll and Hyde team.

I know this is a Canes blog, but the regular season ACC champion Miami Hurricanes are a well deserved pick out of this region. As discussed above, they have all the metrics you’d expect from a team to advance to the Final Four. Mercifully, Norchad Omier was practicing on Wednesday. Houston also looked quite vulnerable in losing the AAC championship to Memphis. One step at a time, Drake is up first on Friday. But Miami looks just as capable, if not more capable, as last year’s team which essentially came within half a game of making its first Final Four.

Midwest Prediction: Miami (5) over Texas (2)

Final Four Predictions

Final Four - Kansas (1) over Miami (5); Arizona (2) over Marquette (2)

Championship Game - Arizona (2) over Kansas (1)

There you have it. Miami makes its first Final Four, but like last year falls to Kansas.

Persuaded by the analysis and logic? There’s still time to change your brackets! Today’s first game tips off at 12:15pm ET with West Virginia (9) v. Maryland (8).

Let us know below how far you think Miami will advance this year. Good luck!


How Far Will Miami Advance in the 2023 Men’s NCAA Tournament?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    First Round
    (1 vote)
  • 16%
    Second Round
    (5 votes)
  • 32%
    Sweet Sixteen
    (10 votes)
  • 12%
    Elite Eight
    (4 votes)
  • 25%
    Final Four
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    National Championship Game
    (0 votes)
  • 9%
    National Champions
    (3 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now