By the Numbers: Kansas vs. North Dakota St.

The Jayhawks begin the defense of their title against a team playing its first season in Division I, let alone its first Big Dance. Across the country, pundits and fans alike are picking the upset. What do the numbers have to say?

Analysis: Last 5 Venue-Appropriate Games

The charts below illustrate the performance for each team over their last 5 venue-appropriate games.  The red bar represents each team's current Sagarin Predictor rating, which represents overall team strength.  The "Performance" is calculated by taking the opponent's Sagarin rating for the game and adding (subtracting) the margin of victory (loss) for each game.  Homecourt advantage is also factored into the equation.  The black line represents the linear trend over the last five games for the team. If slanted upwards, it means the team has generally been playing better each game.


In this analysis, Kansas has underperformed its season average by just under 3 points.  It is a very disturbing picture for Jayhawks fans, as the last two games in particular have been disasters.  The Texas Tech was, by far, the worst performance of the season, while the Baylor game was the fifth-worst.  The fact that the Texas Tech debacle was immediately after KU's best performance of the season (vs Missouri) may mean we should avoid putting too much stock into how Kansas has fared lately and instead focus on their overall strength.  Young teams are often inconsistent, and trends may be less likely to hold true for very long.


Similarly, North Dakota State has slightly underperformed away from home by about 1.4 points in its last five non-home games.  The difference for the Bison is that their trend is roughly even.  Most of their last five games have seen performances right about near the season average.  According to, NDSU is the 17th most experienced team in the nation, in stark contrast to KU's #335 ranking.  So, it's no surprise to see opposites in consistency.


But the numbers really have to favor Kansas here.  The abnormal results of the Texas Tech game are skewing things downward for KU.  In three of the five games in this analysis, KU performed better than NDSU's best performance.  Not once in its last five has NDSU performed above KU's five-game average.


In summary, over the last five games for each team, Kansas has been 6.8 points better than NDSU.  Season average ratings and this specific analysis both suggest a 7-8 point edge for Kansas.


Statistical Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis

These advantages are based on raw statistics derived from scouting reports for each team.  In cases where one team's ranking in a category is strong where the other team's corresponding ranking is weak, an advantage is projected.  For example, if Team A has a #30-rated eFG%, while Team B has a #280-rated eFG% defense, then Team A would be projected to have an advantage in eFG% for the game.


** Denotes that team with advantage also ranks in Top 50 in that category

Clear Advantage for Kansas

Kansas FT%

Kansas 3pt FG%**

Kansas eFG%**

Kansas 2pt FG%**


Kansas PTS/Poss**

Clear Advantage for North Dakota St.

NDSU 3pt FG%**

NDSU TO rate**



Four Factors Game Projections

This method matches up each team's offensive statistics against the other team's defensive statistics.  It also adjusts for the strength of opponents' offense and defense faced so far.  Thus, a team that has played an extremely weak defensive schedule will not be artificially projected to shoot well.  Keep in mind that this is a projection of what would happen if each team played at its average level to date.  It does account for the location of the game, but it does not adjust for teams that play particularly well or poorly based on location more so than the average team.



Team With Projected Advantage


 KU 59-44%

 TO Rate

 NDSU 21-20%


 KU 31-24%


 NDSU 40-36%

 Four Factors Overall

 The only significant difference is projected to be KU's enormous advantage in eFG%.  Fortunately for the Jayhawks, that is the category that impacts games the most, in this particular case to the tune of about 17 points in scoring margin advantage.


Game Outlook

It has become the upset pick du jour in the first round.  Defending national champions fall prey to the new kids on the block in their first ever NCAA Division I championship tournament.  But sometimes it's the most commonly picked upsets that don't occur.  The "no respect" card is a big motivator.  And coming off two bad losses in their last three outings, the Jayhawks should be able to summon enough will and strength to overcome the challenge from the Bison.

Most prediction models give KU anywhere from a seven to eleven-point edge.  The Four Factors projections above suggest that KU will be shooting a much better percentage from the floor than the Bison.  Part of that will be KU's edge on the offensive glass, but not so much.  The offensive glass edge is more a matter of KU limiting NDSU's second-chance opportunities, not so much KU getting many of its own.  It is also not a product of more fastbreak opportunities, as the turnovers and steals are roughly even.  No, the numbers would simply suggest that KU will make more of its shots, thereby implying that they must be better shots.  Watch early to see whether this materializes.  Regardless of the early field-goal shooting percentages, it will be important to see whether KU's shots are easier than NDSU's.  Aside from that, the upset may take shape if NDSU somehow finds a way to score easy points on offensive putbacks or frequent trips to the free throw line.  As always, the three-point line can be an equalizer.  Both teams enter this game with high percentages from behind the arc, but the numbers suggest that NDSU will fare slightly below average this time around.

In summary, look for Kansas to have a significant shooting percentage advantage, which should send them on to the second round.

Sagarin ratings source: Top Stories