2024 NCAA Tournament Preview: Handicapping the National Championship Race with KenPom

NCAA Tournament preview using KenPom's historical metrics to make valuable futures bets.

Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) drives to the basket between TCU Horned Frogs guard Avery
Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) drives to the basket between TCU Horned Frogs guard Avery / Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA
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Another week of college hoops is finished and we draw closer towards the NCAA Tournament, and the field is starting to take shape.

Most college basketball teams play two games per week and continue to build a larger sample and us sports bettors get a better understanding of who each team is. Using historical analysis that has been laid out here, we can get an understanding of the framework of a National Champion.

Typically, champions are balanced, all but two since 2003 have finished the season inside of KenPom's top 20 in the advanced metric websites adjusted offensive efficiency and defensive
efficiency.

Each week we have been breaking down the latest developments in college basketball by creating three buckets: teams that fit KenPom's top 20 as of Monday morning, teams that are top 40 on both sides of the ball, and teams that are top 20 on one side of the ball but outside the top 50 on the other side.

Here's this weeks installment.

2024 NCAA Tournament National Championship Preview

National Championship Contenders

This group is looking the same with each passing week as few teams have been able to hold up week over week, especially now that defending champion UConn is healthy with Donovan Clingan back in the lineup.

The team worth watching in this group is Auburn, who in my opinion has the shakiest case to remain amongst the contenders at this point. We saw the upside of the Tigers, who throttled rival Alabama by 18 points at home on Wednesday, only to lose at Florida by 16 on the road. The Tigers still don't have a road win against a KenPom top 50 team this season. However, there is no denying the team's upside, which is why Bruce Pearl's group has hung around the top of the board.

Almost National Championship Contenders

This is an interesting group of teams, including Kansas who was in the title contender group just last week.

All of these teams have a high ceiling and able to play into the above group, but are just missing the threshold. Each team is well balanced, but not elite enough on both sides to fit the parameters. However, several teams are trending up like Marquette, who has won seven straight in conference play ahead of back-to-back road games, including a titanic matchup on Saturday against UConn.

I made an exception for Iowa State (and Illinois), though, who is a shade outside the top 40, and possibly more of a one trick pony type of team like the group below, but I believe this team is more of a contender, so much so that I added the Cyclones as my third title future (I bet Marquette preseason and Tennessee last month).

Iowa State is the third best defense in adjusted efficiency, turning foes over on about a quarter of its possessions and shutting off the interior for opposing offenses. The team was an NCAA Tournament group last season behind a tenacious defense, but couldn't hold up on offense, losing 59-41 to Pitt in the first round.

That Cyclones team was 114th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency metric, outside the top 200 in effective field goal percentage and turnover rate while shooting 67% from the free throw line. This year's offense is far better, 45th in the country while ranking top 100 in all four factors listed on KenPom (the team still has a free throw shooting problem, to be fair).

Led by sophomore guard Tamin Lipsey, Iowa State has been able to grind out wins at home against Houston (57-53) and go on the road and knock off the likes of Texas.

The Cyclones are a top 10 team and are one that to me belongs in this group of fringe contenders. With a glistening resume of 18-5 and likely trending towards a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, I believe it's time to get in on T.J. Otzelberger's group that can be found as high as +3500 to win the National Championship and +700 to make the Final Four.

The Cyclones do play on the road at Cincinnati on Tuesday in a near-coin flip, and play at Houston next week, but also play three top 40 teams in KenPom's eyes at home and the other two road games are teams outside the top 60.

Can You Trust These Teams?

This is a mixed bag of teams, ones that I typically try to avoid come the NCAA Tournament as most of these teams aren't balanced enough to trust across a six-game sample.

I've mentioned Kentucky as a vulnerable team in this portion of the weekly column, and the team continues to slip defensively, now outside the top 120 nationally.

Now, let's talk about Alabama, who is the best team in the country on offense, per KenPom. However, the defense is outside the top 70. Like Kentucky, this team is something I want nothing to do with come the NCAA Tournament.

The Crimson Tide are uber reliant on shooting at an astronomical clip from beyond the arc to out-pace opponents. The team is sixth in the country in three-point rate and 15th in three-point percentage.

While that can win a few games, the team's bottom half of the country turnover percentage, defensive rebounding rate, or opponents' free throw rate is likely going to cost Nate Oats' bunch sometime in March.

On the other end of the argument is Virginia, who has won eight straight games to ease some NCAA Tournament bubble concerns behind its elite defense that is inside the top 10 nationally. However, this team can look a lot like Iowa State from last season, a team that got dragged into a defensive slugfest in the tourney and laying an egg.

The Woos are outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency despite shooting the three-point shot at a top 20 clip in the country. Most of that is due to the teams inability to generate second chances (257th) or get to the free throw line (343rd).

This is an offense I can't count on to make a run, the opposite of Alabama's problem.

Until next week!

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

Track Reed's bets here!