Tennessee Has More Chances Than Any Other Team To Make The NCAA Tournament

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Source: Jim Brown/USA Today

by Eli Boettger – October 30, 2017

Oftentimes in college basketball, postseason berths stem solely from opportunities.

Last season, Bryce Drew’s Vanderbilt Commodores punched an NCAA Tournament at-large bid despite an unimpressive 19-15 regular season win-loss record. The committee’s inclusion of Vandy as a #9 seed with 15 losses showed yet again the quantifiable importance of quality victories. The SEC’s fith-place finisher had a whopping 26 games against top 100 RPI opponents, victorious in 11 of those matchups. North Carolina was the only team with more chances against top 100 RPI teams (29), and eventually went on to win the national title after notching a #1 seed.

In recent years, the NCAA Tournament selection committee has become increasingly privy to advanced statistics and seeding procedures. In July, it was announced that the committee would be changing its team sheet format. The team sheets display game results and important statistics that are used to determine the tournament’s seeding.

The team sheet was previously divided into four columns. The columns included games against top 50 teams, teams ranked 51-100, teams ranked 101-200, and teams ranked 201 or worse, according to RPI. To better weigh the results of away and neutral matchups, the committee has designed the following column distinctions, which will be effective starting this season.

  • Column 1: Home games against teams ranked 1-30, neutral games vs. top-50 teams, road games against top-75 teams
  • Column 2: Home games against teams ranked 31-75, neutral games ┬ávs. 51-100, road games vs. 76-135
  • Column 3: Home games against teams ranked 76-160, neutral games vs. 101-200, road games vs. 136-240
  • Column 4: Home games against teams ranked 161-351, neutral games vs. 201-351, road games vs. 241-351

The committee plans to use RPI for the official team sheet ranking for the time being, but thanks to preseason KenPom rankings that were released last week, I found the total number of matchups each D-I team has against opponents of each column.

It is worth noting that non-conference tournaments like the PK Invitational or Puerto Rico Tip-Off are not included in the data. Only first round games that have already been announced have been included.

To see the entire data set, click the following link:


The table shows all 351 D-I teams, how many games against opponents of each column, and then a weighted rating. The rating multiples the percentage of total ‘column 1’ opponents by 3, ‘column 2’ opponents by 2, ‘column 3’ opponents by 1, and ‘column 4’ opponents by -1, since losses in those types of scenarios generally damage an overall team sheet.

The top of the list is dominated by SEC and Big 12 teams. Tennessee leads with 22 games against ‘column 1’ and ‘column 2’ opponents. The Vols aren’t projected to be much more than a bubble team, if that, this season. With the nation’s most challenging schedule, it will only make things more difficult for Rick Barnes and his squad. But at least there’s solace in knowing that if the Volunteers can hold their own in non-conference and hover around .500 in league play, they should have a decent shot at a NCAA Tournament bid come March. Oklahoma leads the entire nation with 18 chances against ‘column 1’ opponents, but four tilts with ‘column 4’ teams weaken the overall team sheet potential just a bit. Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas round out the top five.

If you scroll all the way down the list, you’ll find NEC’s LIU Brooklyn, which has the lowest team sheet rating in the country. The Blackbirds won 20 games last season, but have no chances to pick up quality wins this season with zero games against opponents from the first two columns, and 27 matchups with ‘column 4’ opponents.

Team sheeting conference rating averages are found to the right. The SEC (average rating of 1.89) and Big 12 (1.88) are nearly tied at the top, while other power conferences like the Big East (1.77), ACC (1.70), Big Ten (1.56), and Pac-12 (1.43) follow.

The revamped American checks in with the seventh-highest conference average. Temple has the highest team sheet opportunity rating, good for 30th in the country. The Owls have 11 matchups against ‘column 1’ teams and another seven with ‘column 2’ opponents. Conference newcomer Wichita State is not far behind, ranked 52nd overall.

Mid-major teams out west should be a bit uneasy, though.

The Mountain West, which has been a one-bid league the past two seasons, does not have a single team ranked in the top 100. Nevada (ranked 101st) has just two matchups with ‘column 1’ teams and seven against ‘column 4’ teams. The margin of error for the MWC’s favorite is extraordinarily small.

Over in the WCC, the league ranks 13th in conference average. Saint Mary’s was selected as the top team at media days, but the Gaels rank 189th with three matchups with ‘column 1’ opponents and a whopping 14 against the lowly ‘column 4’ opponents. Randy Bennett’s refusal to challenge teams on the road could come back to bite his talented team on Selection Sunday.