2024 NCAA Tournament Preview: Who Profiles as a National Championship Winner According to KenPom?

2024 NCAA Tournament preview, using KenPom to craft historical analysis as to who will win the National Championship.

Feb 24, 2024; Waco, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard L.J. Cryer (4) and guard Jamal Shead (1) react
Feb 24, 2024; Waco, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard L.J. Cryer (4) and guard Jamal Shead (1) react / Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports
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There are two weeks of regular season play for the high major conferences ahead of respective league tournaments and, of course, the NCAA Tournament.

Teams are starting to show its true form, and bracket projections are starting to take focus for teams that are playing in high level games. One thing is for sure, though, the top of the pecking order in this year's bracket is taking shape and the contenders are few and far between, based on historical metrics.

Using KenPom, as outlined here, we can follow a framework to pinpoint the National Championship teams. In short, by the end of the NCAA Tournament, all but two winners have been inside the top 20 on both sides of the ball using the advanced metrics website adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency metrics.

Below, I separated most of the contenders into three buckets, the teams that fit the '20/20' threshold as of Monday, Feb. 26, teams that are just outside of that and top 40 on both sides of the ball, and teams that are streaky, inside the top 20 on one side of the ball and outside the top 50 on the other side of the ball.

Here's where the National Championship picture stands as we head into the home stretch of the season.

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2024 NCAA Tournament Preview

2024 NCAA Tournament Odds

National Championship Contenders

Team

Record

KenPom Ranking

Bracket Matrix Seed

KenPom adjO

KenPom adjD

Natty Odds

Houston

24-3

1

1

16

1

700

UConn

25-3

3

1

3

20

550

Arizona

21-6

4

1

6

13

1300

Auburn

21-6

5

4

15

5

2000

Again, this is a moving list, so a few teams in the next group that slipped outside the top 20 may be back in as soon as next week, but these four teams have been elite on both sides of the ball all season.

Houston has been the best team in Ken Pomeroy's rating system for much of the season behind a historic defense and a relentless offense. We saw what the team can do when the offense is clicking, building a 17-point lead at Baylor, but we also saw the team struggle to close the game out in regulation behind stagnant shooting in the second half. Will Houston's offense match its defense come March? It hasn't yet for Kelvin Sampson's bunch in the "Big Dance."

Look, all teams have flaws. We saw UConn, who is the title favorite to go back-to-back, get ran off the floor by Creighton on the road due to some ungodly shooting by an elite Bluejays team. Arizona was stunned by Washington State on its home floor Thursday and Auburn has struggled at times (especially on the road) as well and now won't have starter Jaylin Williams for an extended period of time.

The key to winning the NCAA Tournament, and the whole point of this exercise, is to find balanced groups that can withstand different compositions of teams come March on a neutral floor.

So far, these teams are the best equipped to do that.

Contender Lites

Team

Record

KenPom Ranking

Bracket Matrix Seed

KenPom adjO

KenPom adjD

Natty Odds

Purdue

25-3

2

1

2

21

750

Tennessee

21-6

6

2

21

2

1300

North Carolina

21-6

8

2

24

8

2000

Duke

21-6

9

3

7

26

2200

Creighton

20-8

12

4

12

22

3000

Marquette

21-6

13

2

25

12

2000

Kansas

21-6

15

2

37

10

3500

Wake Forest

18-9

19

OUT

22

34

10000

TCU

19-8

25

8

26

40

10000

New Mexico

21-7

32

9

36

31

10000

Colorado State

20-9

33

10

33

36

10000

Nebraska

20-8

34

10

38

32

15000

Teams like Purdue, Tennessee and North Carolina have been fixtures in the 20/20 group all year, but the three have slipped out -- all for different reasons.

Purdue's defense remains a question mark. The team doesn't pressure the ball whatsoever, 337th in turnover rate, and while the team has a strong interior defense around Zach Edey, the team can be had from beyond the arc. What happens if the Boilermakers don't go to the free throw line at a top 15 rate in the country, can the offense maintain it's No. 2 standing?

Tennessee has a profile that is the inverse of Purdue, but I'm more bullish in the team's upside and its ability to get back inside the 20/20 group. Tennessee is tops in SEC play in turnover percentage, an impressive feat given that the team plays in a vaunted defensive conference that features a ton of heavy turnover-centric defenses.

I believe the slight drop is nothing but a blip on a true title contender's season.

Lastly, North Carolina has seen its offense take a dive analytically, and it may not be done. The Tar Heels, like Purdue, don't pressure the ball, outside the top 300 in turnover percentage, and are running great on its three-point defense, allowing teams to shoot 29% from beyond the arc this season despite posting an 'open three rate' that is outside the top 300, according to ShotQuality. The Tar Heels may be just a contender lite.

Keep an eye on some of the other teams towards the bottom of the list, like TCU, who is starting to build up some momentum as a frisky mid seeded team that can give teams fits with its relentless transition offense.

Streaky Teams That Can't be Trusted

Team

Record

KenPom Ranking

Bracket Matrix Seed

KenPom adjO

KenPom adjD

Natty Odds

Alabama

19-8

7

3

1

97

2500

Illinois

20-7

10

4

4

61

3500

Baylor

19-8

14

3

5

85

4500

San Diego State

21-7

16

4

52

7

5500

Kentucky

19-8

17

6

8

77

3000

BYU

19-8

18

5

9

68

7500

Gonzaga

22-6

21

11

10

60

8500

Clemson

19-8

24

5

18

53

7500

Dayton

21-5

26

5

20

62

12000

Florida

19-8

27

7

14

82

5500

Mississippi State

19-8

28

10

74

11

8500

Texas Tech

19-8

31

6

19

71

8500

Villanova

15-12

33

OUT

67

19

20000

Florida Atlantic

21-7

35

8

13

101

10000

Maryland

15-13

44

OUT

155

6

35000

Iowa

16-12

49

OUT

11

162

25000

Providence

18-9

53

OUT

122

18

25000

Virginia

20-8

66

10

188

9

15000

Kansas State

16-11

69

OUT

168

15

35000

UCF

14-12

70

OUT

172

14

35000

Rutgers

14-13

94

OUT

288

4

35000

There's a varying degree of teams in this group, both extremes, and we see a ton of volatile results given on the night, which is what we should come to expect with teams that have high ceilings on one side of the floor and low floors on the other side.

Look at BYU, for example, who was able to blitz Baylor at home and pull away to win, but a group that couldn't slow down Kansas State's porous offense on the road on Saturday. The Cougars, who were analytic darlings early on, have come back down to Earth and look to be ripe for an early exit from the NCAA Tournament if the wrong matchup comes up in the first weekend.

Another team to watch in this group is Illinois, who has seen its defense fall quite a bit of late. The Illini have dropped outside the top 60 on defense, another group that doesn't pressure the ball (359th in turnover percentage) and reliant on its rim protection to slow down the opposition. This is a team without a true point guard, 290th in assist rate on the year, and can struggle through the grind of the NCAA Tournament if its defense doesn't round into form.

Things are heating up on the hardwood, make sure to stay in tune with where these teams project moving forward!

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

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