BPI says these college basketball teams are better than their places in the standings

ByPaul Sabin ESPN logo
Friday, January 31, 2020

Wins and losses. That's the first thing most look at when trying to assess a team. After all, what is the purpose of keeping score and playing the game?

Wins and losses tell only part of the story, and it is just that: a story. Wins and losses do not predict the future as well as power indices or Vegas lines can.

Yet perception is often shaped by wins and losses. I am going to try to change that by highlighting one team in each of the 10 best conferences (per average BPI) whose record disagrees with how well it is playing.

Note: BPI and KenPom are predictive ratings, strength of record (SOR) is arésumérating, and the NCAA's NET rating tends to be somewhere in between.


Cincinnati Bearcats

W-L: 13-7

BPI: 41

SOR: 71

KenPom: 42

NET: 50

Cincinnati is tied for third in the nation this season with five games decided by one point or in overtime. These were games that should not have been close -- the best opponent in that stretch, according to BPI, was UNLV, which is 129th in BPI. Looking at the scores of each of Cincinnati's games so far will leave just about everyone confused. The evidence suggests that the Bearcats are playing better as of late. From the low point of a -10 adjusted net efficiency performance against Bowling Green in November, Cincinnati posted a +54 adjusted net efficiency performance against Tulsa in early January. With a 6-2 record in a tight AAC race, Cincinnati has a 24% chance to win a share of the AAC and a 52% chance to make the NCAA tournament.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish

W-L: 12-8

BPI: 55

SOR: 90

KenPom: 60

NET: 71

The ACC is having a down year,yet Notre Dame is 3-6 in the conference. Yikes! Due to such a poor record and by default SOR, the BPI Bracket Predictor gives the Irish a 10% chance to make the tournament, but the metrics suggest the Irish's true talent puts them closer to a bubble team. Virginia and Virginia Tech are both on the bubble, according to both Joe Lunardi and the BPI Bracket Predictor, and they need wins. Whether they can beat an undervalued Notre Dame team down the stretch might be the difference in which postseason tournament each reaches.

Atlantic 10

VCU Rams

W-L: 16-5

BPI: 36

SOR: 42

KenPom: 43

NET: 33

The 16-5 record against the 108th SOS sounds like a bubble team, and in fact, VCU is currently the last team in the field, according to Joe Lunardi. It's impressive that VCU has not lost to a team worse than 56th in BPI, and every single loss came against a team either in the tournament or on the bubble in the latest Bracketology. VCU has one of the harder remaining schedules in the A-10 but you can still expect it to rise and be safe in the field by Selection Sunday.

Big East

Georgetown Hoyas

W-L: 12-9

BPI: 60

SOR: 67

KenPom: 54

NET: 52

Similar to Notre Dame, Georgetown has had a bad start to conference play, going 2-6. BPI does not expect things to get much better, projecting a 6.4-11.6 conference record. The Hoyas do not excel in any notable pace adjusted stats; yet the predictive metrics agree that they are a top-60 team. One needed area of improvement is that Georgetown ranks 315th in steal percentage. If Georgetown wants to win more games in a BPI top-three conference, it needs to create more pressure and force more turnovers.

Big Ten

Purdue Boilermakers

W-L: 11-10

BPI: 16

SOR: 65

KenPom: 24

NET: 38

Purdue's résumé is puzzling, like others' on this list. No one, not even the metrics, can quite agree on what to make of its season so far. On one end, this team has a 29-point win against Michigan State, the best team in the Big Ten, according to BPI. On the other end, this team has a loss to Nebraska, one of only two bad Big Ten teams. One explanation is that Purdue plays at the fifth-slowest pace, introducing more randomness into its game-to-game results. Purdue should pull off some good wins going forward, but I would also expect a few puzzling losses.

Big 12

Texas Tech Red Raiders

W-L: 13-7


SOR: 56


NET: 37

To many, this season has been something of a letdown after a title game appearance in 2019. Last season, its opponents had an effective field goal percentage of 43, which was second best. Perhaps it is regression to the mean or the effect of losing the length of Jarrett Culver, but opponents have improved to an eFG% of 46 against Texas Tech this season. Despite that, Texas Tech is better than it appears. Of BPI top-100 teams, Texas Tech has the third-biggest discrepancy between its résumé (SOR) and its ability (BPI). The Red Raiders still have an elite defense, which ranks 9th in defensive BPI. Similar to last season, Texas Tech is among the best in the country at pressuring the other team into unforced turnovers.

Mountain West

Boise State Broncos

W-L: 14-8

BPI: 70


KenPom: 89

NET: 104

When one team in the conference is a potential No. 1 seed and no one else is a lock to make the tournament, there are not that many options here. Boise State is 14-8 and 6-4 in conference play. Although this team is a long shot for the NCAA tournament, it is a very difficult opponent. In fact, its two best wins have come at home against BYU and Utah State in overtime. Speaking of which, San Diego State still hasn't lost a game, and BPI suggests its most likely remaining loss will come when it travels to Boise on Feb. 16.


Arizona Wildcats

W-L: 13-6


SOR: 47

KenPom: 12

NET: 10

Nico Mannion and Josh Green are potential lottery picks, but it's Zeke Nnaji who is one of the most efficient shooters in the nation, with a true shooting percentage of 70.2, eight in the nation. Despite all that talent, Arizona is 1-4 in Quad 1 games, with a +10 point differential. That streak of close losses against good competition is precisely how a team can be sixth in BPI yet 47th in SOR. A SOR of 47 suggests that Arizona would be a bubble team if the season ended today. I would expect that bad luck to turn around with the four remaining Quad 1 games on its schedule. BPI projects Arizona to go 2.6-1.4 in those four games, with an average NCAA tournament seed of 5.9.


Florida Gators

W-L: 12-8

BPI: 21

SOR: 54

KenPom: 40

NET: 43

With the addition of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and prized recruit Scottie Lewis to a solid returning core, hopes were high for Florida this season. Florida was No. 2 in Preseason BPI, and despite a 12-8 showing so far, it remains a top-25 BPI team, due to being 33rd in adjusted net efficiency. Florida is a 10-seed in the latest Bracketology and needs to be careful to not let more losses pile up. Florida should be able to pad its résumé, as BPI favors the Gators in all of its remaining games except its trips to Lexington and Knoxville.


BYU Cougars

W-L: 15-7

BPI: 27

SOR: 38

KenPom: 20

NET: 29

Joe Lunardi has Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State all on the No. 1 seed line. What do those teams have in common? They all beat BYU when Yoeli Childs, the team's leader in adjusted win shares per 40 minutes, was out due to injury or suspension. Those losses are not surprising, but some might wonder how BYU lost four more games. Like Cincinnati, BYU is third in the nation with five games decided by one point or in overtime. Unlike Cincinnati, BYU is 1-4 in those games, with all five coming on the road. BYU has lost to a potential No. 1 seed without its best player or lost on the road when down by one or fewer at the end of regulation. That sort of bad luck is not usually predictive, and luckily for the Cougars, Childs appears to be back to health. The West Coast Conference looks to have more depth than just Gonzaga this season, and BYU is a team much better than its record. The BPI Bracket Predictor gives BYU a 72% chance to make the tournament and a projected seed of 8.3.