College Basketball National Championship Contenders: Purdue Enters Title Conversation

College Basketball National Championship Contenders: Purdue Enters Title Conversation article feature image
  • Ryan Collinsworth identifies eight college basketball national championship contenders based on a specific statistic profile.
  • The Purdue Boilermakers (+10000), who are on a five-game winning streak, stand out as an intriguing futures bet.

I introduced a way to identify college basketball teams that fit the statistical profile of a national champion last week, and after only five days, we already have enough new information to warrant a follow-up.

Two teams have joined the ranks of our contenders, while one of the seven we first highlighted has fallen out of consideration.

Let’s begin with a brief recap of our methods and qualifications, then review the teams shuffling up and down our rankings.

I initially analyzed all college basketball teams based on three metrics, each sourced from Ken Pomeroy, to determine which could win the national title this season:

Adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO): Points scored per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents

Adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD): Points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents

Adjusted efficiency margin (AdjEM): The difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency

I correlated each of these metrics with NCAA tournament performance. AdjEM boasted by far the highest correlation (at r=0.561), which suggests that well-balanced teams are more successful in the postseason.

We established that national champion-caliber teams generally boast an AdjEM score of 23.81 or higher. This threshold serves as the primary qualifying factor in our analysis.

In another article on our Final Four dark horse candidates, we also established statistical thresholds for AdjO and AdjD. Generally, Final Four teams boast an AdjO score of 114.0 or higher and an AdjD score of 96.2 or less.

Teams must fulfill all three of the above criteria in order to qualify as a national championship contender.

Updated 2018-19 Championship Contenders

Each of these teams is represented below based on their current AdjO and AdjD, in order to help you visualize their standing relative to previous national champions and Final Four teams:

Six of those eight teams boast top 10 odds to win the national championship this season, but two are still long-shots: Virginia Tech at +4000 and Purdue at +10000.

  • Duke +200
  • Gonzaga +1000
  • Virginia +1000
  • Tennessee +1400
  • Michigan State +1600
  • North Carolina +1800
  • Virginia Tech +4000
  • Purdue +10000

Our list of championship contenders also currently excludes Michigan (+1000), Kansas (+1400), Kentucky (+1600) and Nevada (+1800). All four currently have top 10 odds to win a national championship this season.

North Carolina’s Ascension Was Inevitable

North Carolina was bound to make this list eventually.

Last week, the Tar Heels fell just 0.52 points short of a qualifying AdjEM (28.81 or higher), and they met both criteria for AdjO and AdjD. According to Ken Pomeroy, they have the 12th-ranked strength of schedule. They boast wins over No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 23 North Carolina State and — most recently — No. 12 Virginia Tech.

The Case for Purdue

The Boilermakers are currently on a five-game winning streak, including back-to-back wins at Ohio State and at home against No. 6 Michigan State. We want to avoid being a prisoner of the moment, but those wins are impressive nonetheless.

The strength of Purdue’s team is star guard Carsen Edwards, who leads the Big Ten in scoring and ranks sixth in the country with 24.2 points per game. The Boilermakers rank fourth in AdjO, 48th in AdjD and second in the country in strength of schedule.

Their 14-6 overall record appears uninspiring on the surface, but all six of their losses have come on the road or in neutral site games. And three of those losses have come against AP top-25 opponents: No. 5 Michigan, No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 25 Florida State.

Their +10000 odds at a title make them a particularly intriguing futures bet based on value alone. But, if you remain skeptical, you won’t have to wait long for additional clarity.

Purdue faces No. 21 Maryland and unranked Nebraska over its next four games. Both of those teams rank among our Final Four dark horse candidates this season.

So… What’s Wrong With Michigan?

In a word: Offense.

Michigan-Basketball
Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ignas Brazdeikis, John Beilein

Michigan ranks fifth in AdjEM (28.62) and second in AdjD (84.0), both of which are stellar metrics befitting a potential champion. However, the Wolverines offense simply isn’t cutting it.

They rank 221st in scoring offense (71.7 points per game), 206th in 3-point attempts per game (21.9), 142nd in 3-point percentage (35.0%), 121st in field goal percentage (45.8%) and 268th in free throw attempts per game (17.6).

Despite those poor raw statistics, their AdjO score of 112.6 still ranks 27th in the country. They’ll need to improve that mark by just 1.4 points in order to once again qualify for Final Four and national championship consideration.

So while there might be cause for concern for the Wolverines, don’t count them out just yet.


We’ve still got plenty of basketball left to play, so I’ll be periodically publishing follow-ups to this piece as we approach March Madness. Whenever a team ascends into championship consideration — or falls from grace — I’ll continue to keep you updated.