This story has been updated to reflect No. 12 seed Indiana's 66-58 win over No. 12 seed Wyoming on Tuesday.
Since the NCAA men's basketball tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, at least one school that started the tournament in the First Four has won a game in the Round of 64 almost every single year. The 2019 NCAA tournament was the only time it didn't happen, but the mark has been achieved in nine of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, First Four teams have combined for 18 wins in the NCAA tournament after the First Four, including VCU and UCLA's Final Four runs in 2011 and 2021, respectively.
So, which of the at-large teams in the First Four of the 2022 NCAA Tournament — No. 11 seeds Notre Dame and Rutgers, and No. 12 seeds Wyoming and Indiana — is the most likely to win a first-round game, let alone potentially advance to the second or third weekend?
Here's what the data say. Advanced stats are courtesy of kenpom.com.
No. 12 seed Indiana is arguably the First Four participant that best fits the profile of a potential dark horse team. While the Hoosiers were among the final at-large teams chosen for the field because of their resume, their predictive metrics, namely those of kenpom.com, suggest that they're a stronger team than their double-digit seed would suggest at face value.
At the time of the selection show, Indiana was ranked No. 36 on kenpom.com, 28 spots higher than fellow First Four team Rutgers, for example. As shown in the scatter plot below, which graphs the NCAA tournament seeds and the pre-NCAA tournament kenpom.com rankings of the top 50 teams in the selection committee's overall seed list, Indiana's ranking on the site was better than three of the five No. 11 seeds, half of the No. 10 seeds, three No. 9 seeds and half of the No. 7 seeds.
Due to the similar rankings of New Mexico State and Richmond, they're labeled as "N" and "R," respectively, on the scatter plot. Notre Dame has been shortened to "ND."
As Indiana showed in the Big Ten tournament with wins over Michigan and Illinois, and a last-second loss to Big Ten tournament champion Iowa, the Hoosiers can compete with, and beat, better teams.
Here's a closer look at what makes the Hoosiers a top-40 team in the eyes of kenpom.com's metrics.
The Big Ten's best defense
Within conference play, Indiana's defense ranked first in efficiency, allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions, per kenpom.com. For reference, the national average across DI men's basketball this season is 103.1.
(Here's the complete history of how teams in the First Four have fared.)
The Hoosiers' 13.3-percent block rate — which means they blocked roughly two out of every 15 2-point shots opponents attempted — also ranked first during Big Ten play. Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis' individual block rate nearly doubled year over year, from 4.8 percent to 8.8 percent, as he has blocked a career-high 2.4 shots per game in the first season of coach Mike Woodson's tenure. Reserve forward Jordan Geronimo's seven-percent block rate ranks second on the team.
Both forwards had standout performances in Indiana's win over Wyoming in their NCAA tournament debuts. Jackson-Davis had 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting and nine rebounds. Geronimo came off the bench to add a season-high 15 points and seven rebounds.
Overall, Indiana's defense ranked No. 21 nationally in efficiency prior to the NCAA tournament and in our analysis of dark horse NCAA tournament teams, meaning teams seeded No. 7 or worse that have made the Elite Eight or further, 15 of the 22 dark horse teams ranked in the top 30 nationally in offensive or defensive efficiency prior to the NCAA tournament.
Indiana certainly checks that box.
A surging point guard
Another one of the qualities of NCAA tournament dark horse teams is having a go-to bucket-getter, typically a high-usage and highly efficient guard or wing.
In the last month, senior point guard Xavier Johnson, a transfer from Pittsburgh, fits that bill. In Indiana's last eight games, Johnson averages 18.1 points, 6.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds on 45.5-percent 2-point shooting, 45.2-percent 3-point shooting and 89.6-percent free-throw shooting with an average offensive rating per game of 117.1, which is higher than his season-long average of 103.6 and the national average of 103.1. He earned the game MVP honors from kenpom.com in three of those eight games, as his play in the last month is that of an all-conference player.
🔮 CRYSTAL BALL: Every first-round game in the NCAA tournament, picked
For the season, Johnson has the team's highest usage rate, 27.8 percent, which means when he's on the floor for the Hoosiers, more than a quarter of the team's offensive possessions end in Johnson making a shot, Johnson missing a shot that's rebounded by the defense or Johnson committing a turnover. The ball is in his hands more than any other Indiana player and lately, that's led to a lot of productive results, as Johnson is arguably playing the best basketball of his career, when you consider the competition, the stakes and the quality of his team.
Jackson-Davis, who averaged 25.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 66.7-percent shooting in Indiana's three Big Ten tournament games, is the team's leading scorer and presumably the focal point of opponents' scouting reports because of his singular talent that allows him to take over a game. But Johnson's visible passion and recent play has made him integral to how far Indiana advances in the NCAA tournament.
Indiana's track record against tournament teams
Indiana went 5-10 in its 15 games against teams that made the NCAA tournament. Its last four losses to that group of teams each came by three points or less, and two others by a five-point margin. At the very least, Indiana is typically competitive against quality opponents. It took this insane shot from Jordan Bohannon and this clutch one from Ron Harper Jr. for the Hoosiers to fall in two of their last three losses.
Two of Indiana's fairly infrequent blowout losses — to Michigan by 18 and Illinois by 17, both at home — came against opponents that the Hoosiers have since beaten on a neutral floor in the Big Ten tournament.
Indiana's first-round opponent is No. 5 seed Saint Mary's, which is 5-5 against NCAA tournament teams, which includes a win over No. 16 seed Texas Southern.
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Here's the case for the other First Four teams
Indiana isn't the only team assigned to the First Four that college basketball fans could be optimistic about, so here are the cases for the other three.
There are certainly some positive aspects to Notre Dame's profile as a potential dark horse, as the Fighting Irish rank No. 29 nationally in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, which meets the aforementioned top-30 cutoff of dark horse candidates. They make 37.7 percent of their 3-pointers and roughly 43 percent of their total shot attempts come from behind the arc, so they're a high-volume and highly accurate 3-point shooting team, which can certainly be critical in pulling off an upset or two in March.
This is Notre Dame coach Mike Brey's 13th NCAA tournament appearance at the school, so perhaps you value teams with a veteran head coach when you fill out your NCAA tournament bracket. The school made back-to-back Elite Eight runs in 2015 and 2016. Six of the team's seven rotation players are upperclassmen and the one true freshman, guard Blake Wesley, is arguably the most talented player on the team. Every rotation player is at least 6-foot-3 and all but one are 6-foot-5 or taller.
Notre Dame is 4-6 against NCAA tournament teams, with one of the wins coming against No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Not only is Rutgers the only one of these four schools that made the NCAA tournament last season, when the Scarlet Knights ended a decades-long NCAA tournament drought and an even longer streak without winning a game in the Big Dance, but they're also 8-6 against NCAA tournament teams this season.
Five of the team's last eight wins have come by three points or fewer, as have seven of its 18 wins on the season, which could cut both ways in a glass half-empty or glass half-full scenario. Does Rutgers "know how to win close games," or some other trope or cliche about a team with success in competitive games, or do the Scarlet Knights, which rank No. 289 in tempo and No. 107 in offensive efficiency, just operate with relatively small margins for error?
It's hard to pinpoint what Rutgers is great at from an analytical perspective. Nearly 59 percent of its made baskets are assisted and it ranked first in Big Ten play with a 10-percent steal rate defensively, but the Scarlet Knights are simply above average in a lot of statistical categories. They benefit from the coaching of Steve Pikiell and the play of seniors Harper, Geo Baker and Caleb McConnell, plus the athletic Clifford Omoruyi, who's among the nation's leaders in dunks.
Rutgers is almost the opposite of Notre Dame: the results are there, even if its advanced statistics don't jump off the screen.
Here's the schedule for the tournament — click or tap on each game to go right to that live stream.