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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | February 22, 2020

7 men's basketball teams you absolutely don't want to face right now

Baylor, Kansas, San Diego State and Gonzaga remain No. 1 seeds in latest bracket predictions

Selection Sunday is less than a month away and it's a good time to ponder the NCAA bracket and who might be the hottest teams heading into the tournament. One way to think about it — who are the programs you'd absolutely hate to see on your favorite team's schedule right now?

If you're a believer in momentum, however real or quantifiable it is, we can measure who is headed in the right direction and should be under consideration for a tournament run when we fill out brackets March 15.

Here was my process. Using kenpom.com's single-game data, I isolated the February performances of the top teams in the country, noting the number of possessions in a game, as well as each team's offensive and defensive efficiency for the game. We then added those single-game performances for the entire month to establish a February offensive efficiency and February defensive efficiency.

We calculated net efficiency by subtracting February defensive efficiency from February offensive efficiency.

In other words, I found the teams that essentially are most likely to score on offense while preventing baskets at the other end of the court. For reference, the average men's basketball game this season has 68.5 possessions, meaning on average, each team plays on offense 68.5 times and defense 68.5 times in a game.

Some teams, however, play at a faster pace than others. Alabama, for example, averages 75.5 possessions per game, while Virginia averages 59.5. By evaluating teams on a per-possession or per-100-possession basis, we can judge just how efficient teams are on offense and defense, without being influenced by how fast or slow a pace they play.

This season, the average efficiency is 101.7, which means that on average, DI men's basketball teams are scoring 101.7 points for every 100 possessions. An offensive efficiency of 115 for the season is very good, while a defensive efficiency of 90 is very stingy.

The efficiency data below was calculated through the games played through Feb. 22. The teams are listed in descending order of their February net efficiency rating, but since context matters, we also listed each team's opponents this month, along with each school's NET ranking.

The NET rankings are current as of Feb. 22. When calculating the average NET ranking of a team's February opponents, we rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

Using this methodology, here are seven teams you don't want to face right now:

Gonzaga

February net efficiency: +22.79 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 115
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 96 San Francisco, No. 215 Loyola Marymount, No. 37 Saint Mary's, No. 133 Pepperdine, No. 96 San Francisco

Gonzaga's presence on this list shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, especially after they dispatched Saint Mary's, which ranks in the top 40 of the NET and on kenpom.com, 90-60 on the road. The 'Zags are an offensive juggernaut, averaging almost 117 points per 100 possessions this month, while limiting their opponents to roughly 94.

Don't even bother trying to think of a way to discount Gonzaga. The West Coast Conference has three teams in contention for a single-digit seed — also BYU and Saint Mary's — depending on how the rest of the season plays out. Plus, in a three-week stretch in November and December, the Bulldogs played Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Arizona and North Carolina.

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East Tennessee State

February net efficiency: +21.01 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 187
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 59 UNC Greensboro, No. 153 Chattanooga, No. 207 Mercer, No. 338 The Citadel, No. 287 VMI, No. 77 Furman

East Tennessee State won exactly 100 games over the previous four seasons and the Buccaneers are on pace to exceed that 25-wins-per-year average thanks to their 25-4 record this season.

In six games this month, they're outscoring their opponents by roughly 21 points per 100 possessions, thanks to an offense that's averaging almost 119 points per 100 possessions. East Tennessee State earned a No. 13 seed three years ago and the Bucs were a trendy upset pick in the first round, and could very well return to the NCAA tournament.

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Liberty

February net efficiency: +19.75 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 266
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 320 Florida Gulf Coast, No. 250 Jacksonville, No. 293 North Alabama, No. 304 NJIT, No. 164 North Florida

Last season, Liberty upset No. 5 seed Mississippi State in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament and the Bulldogs finished the year ranked No. 21 on kenpom.com. This is a new season, sure, but many of the same faces still play for the Flames, who rank 21st nationally in kenpom.com's minutes continuity stat.

Against their five A-Sun opponents this month, the Flames are outscoring the opposition by almost 20 points per 100 possessions. Liberty is really getting the job done defensively, holding opponents to roughly 93 points per 100 possessions while scoring roughly 113 points per 100 possessions.

San Diego State

February net efficiency: +19.34 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 124
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 39 Utah State, No. 220 Air Force, No. 151 New Mexico, No. 91 Boise State, No. 121

It's no surprise that the country's last team to lose, No. 4 San Diego State, is on this list, even in spite of the Aztecs' loss to UNLV on Saturday. On average in February, the Aztecs are scoring almost 119 points for every 100 possessions, while holding their opponents to roughly 99 points.

That's how they have an impressive net efficiency rating for the month of plus-19.

San Diego State's February slate has included a home game against a team just inside the top 40 in the NET (Utah State) and a road game against a top-100 team (Boise State) and the Aztecs won both games by double digits.

Even if they're no longer perfect, they're still pretty darn good.

BYU

February net efficiency: +18.89 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 160
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 37 Saint Mary's, No. 275 Portland, No. 96 San Francisco, No. 215 Loyola Marymount, No. 205 San Diego, No. 134 Santa Clara

Depending on what time zone you live in and with whom your fan allegiances reside, BYU is perhaps quietly surging off your radar. The Cougars have won seven straight games and three of their seven losses this season have come on the road in overtime against quality competition (Boise State, Utah and Saint Mary's).

In six games this month, BYU is outscoring its opponents by roughly 20 points per 100 possessions, thanks to an offense that's averaging roughly 115 points per 100 possessions. The Cougars are one of the best shooting teams in the country with a national-leading 3-point percentage of 41.9 percent and the 14th-best 2-point percentage.

They dropped 107 points in regulation in a win over Pepperdine on Jan. 30, so the team's net efficiency rating this month could've been even higher if that game had been played two days later.

Kansas

February net efficiency: +16.29 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 46
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 20 Texas Tech, No. 78 Texas, No. 98 TCU, No. 10 West Virginia, No. 46 Oklahoma, No. 70 Iowa State, No. 2 Baylor

Kansas is ranked No. 1 on kenpom.com, No. 3 in the AP poll and No. 4 in the NET rankings and it feels like picking nits to argue which one of those is most accurate because the Jayhawks deserve to be on the short list of national championship frontrunners, especially after their 3-point percentage following back-to-back games with at least 11 made threes against Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Keep in mind the Jayhawks' opponents this month when you look at their February net efficiency rating. While it's not as high as some other teams on this list, Kansas has played West Virginia, Baylor and Texas Tech — three of the 11 strongest defensive teams in the country — plus four other Big 12 teams that rank in the top 100 of the NET.

Speaking of defense, Kansas ranks No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and the Jayhawks have allowed just 90 points per 100 possessions this month.

Michigan

February net efficiency: +16.98 points per 100 possessions
Average NET ranking of February opponents: 54
NET ranking of February opponents: No. 35 Rutgers, No. 21 Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan State, No. 159 Northwestern, No. 58 Indiana, No. 35 Rutgers

Michigan is a three-point home loss to Ohio State away from being perfect on the month. In that time the Wolverines have beaten rival Michigan State, plus NCAA tournament hopefuls Rutgers (twice) and Indiana.

In February, they've been fairly balanced in terms of their offensive and defensive efficiency. Over 100 possessions, they're scoring an average of 107 points, while holding opponents to just 90 points.

First-year head coach Juwan Howard has his team playing its best ball since November, when the Wolverines beat Gonzaga and Creighton.

A few more for the road

Don't sleep on Texas Tech (again). The Red Raiders are outscoring their opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions this month. They have a top-15 defense and their offense, ranked No. 45 in terms of efficiency as of Feb. 22, is good enough to fuel another NCAA tournament run.

Houston is just 4-3 this month but the Cougars have impressive advanced numbers — outscoring their opponents by roughly 17.3 points per 100 possessions thanks to an offense that's averaging 106 points per 100 possessions and limiting opponents to roughly 89 points. So Houston provides an interesting case where its per-possession numbers and its overall record tell two different stories about the Cougars' play this month.

If you're looking for teams that need to pull the emergency break and get back on track before March Madness, there are a few notable schools that apply. Through Feb. 22, VCU (1-4 in February) has been outscored by roughly 10 points per 100 possessions with a defense that's allowing 104 points per 100 possession while it's offense has just averaged 94.

Butler (2-4 in February) and Saint Mary's (3-2 in February) have been outscored by roughly six and a half points and four points, respectively, per 100 possessions in February.

Iowa (4-2 in February) and Seton Hall (3-3 in February) both have a February net efficiency rating that is slightly negative, too.

The complete data for the teams examined is listed here:

 

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