The 5 Worst At-Large Teams in the NCAA Tournament
We all know the story by now.
Each year, certain teams sneak into the NCAA Tournament's field of 68 teams that may not exactly deserve to be there. Some teams get snubbed as a result. This year, no matter how you feel, the bracket shapes up well from an analytics standpoint.
Based on our nERD metric, which indicates expected point differential against an average opponent on a neutral court, each and every at-large team (all 37) ranked inside the top 73 in the country. That means that the extra bids granted to the nonautomatic qualifiers all went to a top-75 squad. Not bad.
However, that doesn't mean every at-large team is great by any means, and this is a look at the bottom of the barrel of the nonautomatic bids.
5. UCLA (11 Seed, East Region)
nERD: 9.28 (46th Nationally)
The UCLA Bruins lost two major contributors in Chris Smith and Jalen Hill during Pac-12 play. Despite that, their offense has been their strength.
Per our numbers, they have a 70th percentile offense. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the Bruins defense (41st percentile via our numbers).
UCLA is actually in a decent spot: their First Four opponent, Michigan State, has struggled to score the ball this season. The Spartans are below the Division I average in three-point field goal percentage (32.0% compared to the average of 33.8%) and two-field goal percentage (47.8% versus 49.8%), via KenPom.
We give UCLA a 56.3% chance of beating the Spartans on Thursday afternoon.
4. Utah State (11 Seed, South Region)
nERD: 9.21 (47th Nationally)
The Utah State Aggies are led by under-the-radar star Neemias Queta. The junior center is an elite rebounder and rim protector. He spearheads the Aggies defense which is ranked in the 70th percentile by our numbers and 8th overall in adjusted defensive rating by KenPom's numbers.
They'll be thoroughly tested by the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who enter the NCAA Tournament with a 72nd percentile offense. We give Utah State only a 40.6% chance of toppling Texas Tech.
3. Florida (7 Seed, East Region)
nERD: 9.21 (47th Nationally)
The Florida Gators are 40th in offensive efficiency and 37th in defensive efficiency, via KenPom. They're in the 61st and 48th percentile, per our numbers, respectively.
They'll need their emerging star, Tre Mann, to get hot if they hope to make a run deep into March. Mann leads the Gators in usage rate (25.8%), via KenPom. Florida's chances to beat Virginia Tech is 51.2%.
2. Missouri (9 Seed, West Region)
nERD: 8.94 (51st Nationally)
Missouri struggled over the final month of the season as they lost six out of their final nine games. They graded out with a 60th percentile offense and a 40th percentile defense.
Fortunately, the Tigers drew an Oklahoma Sooners squad that also struggled to close out their regular season. The Sooners enter the NCAA Tournament having lost four out of their last five games.
If the Tigers manage to survive against Oklahoma (the Sooners are installed as 2.0-point favorites), they're in trouble as they face off with the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, who lead the nation in nERD (20.79).
1. Wichita State (11 Seed, West Region)
nERD: 6.95 (73rd Nationally)
Of the at-large teams, only the LSU Tigers finished with a worse defense than Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers enter the NCAA Tournament with a 39th percentile defense, per our numbers, and are 103rd overall, per KenPom.
Additionally, their performance in the AAC Tournament doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. The Shockers narrowly survived an upset bid by 148th-ranked South Florida in the quarterfinals before losing in the semifinals to the 109th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.
They're in a for a challenge as they square off with the Drake Bulldogs in the First Four round. Via nERD, The Bulldogs are ranked 17 spots higher than Wichita State.