Why St. Bonaventure is the First Four team most likely to make a March Madness run
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, every year at least one team that was sent to Dayton for the First Four has won multiple games in the tournament, including the play-in game. Most famously, VCU made an improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in 2011 and South Florida, La Salle, Tennessee, Dayton, Wichita State and USC have since followed suit as teams to win their way to the Round of 32, if not further.
Those seven teams have combined for 12 NCAA tournament wins – not including their victories in Dayton.
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The following data comes from KenPom.com, using his pre-NCAA tournament rankings.
|Year||School||Seed||Tournament Exit||Adjusted Efficiency Margin Rank||Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Rank||Adjust Defensive Efficiency Rank|
|2011||VCU||No. 11||Final Four||No. 82||No. 60||No. 126|
|2012||South Florida||No. 12||Round of 32||No. 60||No. 165||No. 15|
|2013||La Salle||No. 13||Sweet 16||No. 57||No. 46||No. 83|
|2014||Tennessee||No. 11||Sweet 16||No. 14||No. 25||No. 19|
|2015||Dayton||No. 11||Round of 32||No. 49||No. 72||No. 39|
|2016||Wichita State||No. 11||Round of 32||No. 20||No. 58||No. 5|
|2017||USC||No. 11||Round of 32||No. 61||No. 46||No. 86|
Tennessee and Wichita State both ranked in the top 20 in efficiency – more in line with, say, a team typically seeded as a No. 3 through No. 6 – but their resumes sent them to Dayton. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a team that plays that efficiently on both ends of the floor was able to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.
There is no such team among this year's play-in group. All four rank between No. 45 and No. 70 in KenPom.com's rankings.
However, the historical data from VCU in 2011 through USC in 2017 can provide some benchmarks and reference points as you make your picks this season. On only two occasions did a team with an offensive efficiency ranked outside of the top 75 (South Florida in 2012) or a defensive efficiency ranked outside of the top 100 (VCU in 2011) win its First Four matchup and at least one more NCAA tournament game.
That raised a major red flag for UCLA, Arizona State and Syracuse entering the First Four. The Bruins and Sun Devils play an efficient brand of offense but both are lacking on the defensive end of the floor. The Orange is the exact opposite, playing stifling defense with its 2-3 zone but struggling on offense.
|School||Adj. Efficiency Margin Rank||Adj. Off. Eff. Rank||Adj. Def. Eff. Rank||Experience||Height||3P%||FT%||TO%||Def. TO%|
|St. Bonaventure||No. 69||No. 59||No. 94||No. 32||No. 222||39.8%||75.4%||16.3%||20.4%|
|UCLA||No. 48||No. 23||No. 110||No. 263||No. 5||38.3%||72.2%||16.2%||14.7%|
|Arizona State||No. 45||No. 17||No. 124||No. 153||No. 265||36.4%||73.8%||14.6%||20.4%|
|Syracuse||No. 54||No. 128||No. 11||No. 339||No. 1||32.2%||74.1%||19.2%||19.6%|
That leaves St. Bonaventure, with a top-60 offense and a top-100 defense, in terms of efficiency. The Bonnies rank 32nd nationally in terms of experience, per Ken Pomeroy, better than any of the seven teams listed above. They also have higher team 3-point (39.8 percent) and free throw percentages (75.4 percent) than any of their First Four predecessors that won multiple tournament games.
Four of the seven teams listed at the top of this story ranked in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage, meaning they had a good chance of winning the turnover (and points off of turnovers) battle. St. Bonaventure turns the ball over on just 16.3 percent of its offensive possessions (41st nationally) and forces turnovers on 20.4 percent of its opponent's possessions (58th nationally).
With a senior backcourt duo of Jaylen Adams (19.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 45.7 percent on 3-point attempts) and Matt Mobley (18.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 38.3 percent on 3-point attempts), St. Bonaventure has the experience and firepower to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Florida, you're officially on upset alert.