Saturday, July 31

March Madness 2021 Predictions: Using KenPom to Pick NCAA, Final Four Surprises

If you are not looking at the eponymous Ken Pomeroy KenPom Ratings before making your support picks from the 2021 NCAA Tournament to the end of the Final Four, then you would be doing it wrong. It’s called March Madness because of those unforeseen surprises, early starts, and fantastic finishes, but in the end, it’s still all about statistical sanity.

Sure, Dick Vitale is awesome, honey, and Charles Barkley gives you so much more than Chuck-les, but Ken Pomeroy’s in-depth, numbers-based parenthesis breakdown is no longer a fancy analysis, it also has a track record of success.

You can learn a lot by looking at the results of the last 12 NCAA tournaments. From Kansas cutting the nets in 2008 to Virginia taking the most recent title two years ago, only five teams (10.4 percent) that entered the tournament placed outside of the top 20 at KenPom advanced to the Final Four. Along with Virgnia (No. 1 at KenPom), the 2019 Final Four also featured runners-up Texas Tech (No. 5 at KenPom), Michigan State (No. 3 at KenPom) and Auburn (No. 11 at KenPom).

Eight of the last 12 NCAA champions were ranked No. 1 at KenPom. Another, Gonzaga in 2017, made the championship game. Another, Kentucky in 2015, made it to the Final Four.

MARCH MADNESS: The best bracket names for 2021

That’s where you find the right chalk. But KenPom can also help you identify support sleepers and busts based on two distinctive statistics: adjusted offensive efficiency Y adjusted defensive efficiency. If a team is highly qualified in either area, that can make up for shortcomings at the other extreme.

In 2018, when Loyola-Chicago crashed in the Final Four, he had defenseman KenPom number 17 on his side. In 2017, South Carolina ranked 91st in offense, but made a Cinderella run to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed thanks to its third-place defense. In 2013, Louisville rode its seventh offense and its highest-ranked defense until the Final Four.

Eliminate the two teams that had the biggest statistical anomalies since 2010, VCU and Butler in 2011, and nothing has been shocking in the national semifinals when KenPom is taken into account. If a team is rated higher on both offense and defense, then it can expect to beat anyone at any part of the tournament.

But before using KenPom to make your March Madness group picks, here are some things to know about this year’s NCAA Tournament field, based on your ratings:

MARCH MADNESS: Download a 2021 Printable Support

KenPom Ratings for Madness March 2021

Best teams in the NCAA tournament

1. Gonzaga (No. 1 in the west)
2. Michigan (No. 1 in the east)
3. Illinois (No. 1 in the Midwest)
4. Baylor (No. 1 in the south)
5. Iowa (No. 2 in the west)
6. Houston (No. 2 in the Midwest)
7. State of Ohio (No. 2 in the south)
8. Alabama (No. 2 in the East)

Best teams in adjusted offensive efficiency

1. Gonzaga (No. 1 in the west)
2. Iowa (No. 2 in the West)
3. Baylor (No. 1 in the south)
4. State of Ohio (No. 2 in the south)
5. LSU (No. 8 in the east)
6. Michigan (No. 1 in the east)
7. Illinois (No. 1 in the Midwest)
8. Houston (No. 2 in the Midwest)

Best teams in adjusted defensive efficiency

1. Loyola-Chicago (No. 8 in the Midwest)
2. Alabama (No. 2 in the east)
3. Tennessee (No. 5 in the Midwest)
4. Illinois (No. 1 in the Midwest)
5. Kansas (No. 3 in the west)
6. Michigan (No. 1 in the east)
7. State of Utah (No. 11 in the south)
8. Gonzaga (No. 1 in the west)

Most likely, the first round surprises are based on KenPom

1. No. 9 Wisconsin over No. 8 North Carolina (South)
2. No. 10 Rutgers over No. 7 Clemson (Midwest)
3. No. 9 St. Bonaventure over No. 8 LSU (East)
4. No. 10 VCU over No. 7 Oregon (West)
5. No. 10 Virginia Tech over No. 7 Florida (South)
6. No. 10 Maryland over No. 7 Connecticut (East)
7. Utah State No. 11 over No. 6 Texas Tech (South)
8. No. 11 UCLA (if playing) over No. 6 BYU (East)

Most underrated teams in the NCAA Tournament

1. Wisconsin (No. 10 in KenPom, No. 9 in the South)
2. Loyola-Chicago (No. 8 at KenPom, No. 8 at Midwest)
3. Connecticut (No. 16 at KenPom, No. 7 at East)
4. San Buenaventura (No. 25 at KenPom, No. 9 at East)
5. USC (No. 14 at KenPom, No. 6 at West)
6. Maryland (No. 31 at KenPom, No. 10 at East)
7. Villanova (No. 12 at KenPom, No. 5 at South)
8. Rutgers (No. 34 at KenPom, No. 10 at Midwest)

Most overrated teams in the NCAA tournament

1. West Virignia (No. 27 at KenPom, No. 3 at Midwest)
2. Missouri (No. 51 at KenPom, No. 9 at West)
3. Texas (No. 26 at KenPom, No. 3 at East)
4. State of Oklahoma (No. 30 in KenPom. No. 4 in the Midwest)
5. Clemson (No. 42 at KenPom, No. 7 at Midwest)
6. Kansas (No. 22 at KenPom, No. 3 at West)
7. Virginia Tech (No. 50 in KenPom, No. 10 in the South)
8. Florida (No. 37 at KenPom, No. 7 in the South)

March Madness 2021 Support Predictions

West Region

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Southern region

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Midwest Region

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Eastern Region

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Final Four selections

  • Gonzaga
  • State of ohio
  • Illinois
  • Michigan

National Champion: Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s resume at 26-0 has the same feel as Virginia’s resume in 2019 from the top of KenPom’s rankings. In that tournament, Gonzaga was second at KenPom and upset by the mighty fifth team at KenPom, Texas Tech, at Elite Eight.

This year, Gonzaga faces a similar looming hurdle: Iowa, second-seeded in the West, is also fifth at KenPom. Support before that point is very favorable. For the Bulldogs, it’s all up to the Hawkeyes to avoid ending another promising championship-caliber season before the Final Four.


What can lead the Zags zigzagging to the national semifinals is their higher-ranked offense and better defensive efficiency than the Hawkeyes. Two more powerhouses of the No. 1-seeded Big Ten, Illinois and Michigan, are also complete teams. Baylor is No. 4 overall in KenPom, but there is a massive drop in defensive efficiency to No. 44, making him far less dangerous than the other top three seeds.

Based on the construction of both teams, Gonzaga and Michigan would represent the top two teams to meet in the national semifinals in Indianapolis. However, Illinois, with a favorable Midwest seed ahead of Houston and West Virginia, is the second safest bet to reach the Final Four, as Alabama looms as a more dangerous regional final opponent for Michigan. In the end, it will be the Zags who will take down the Illini after Illinois passes through Ohio again.

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