The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 17, 2021

American Athletic Conference Preview

Today, we preview the strongest of the Group of 5 conferences.  In a couple of years, we might be referring to the American Athletic Conference as the top of the “Tier 2” leagues.  It would not be surprising to see some of the Big 12 teams and some of the AAC teams merging into one league.

Until then, the AAC remains the conference where the top team is usually the leading contender for the guaranteed Group of 5 team in a New Year’s Six bowl.  Last year, Cincinnati ran the table in the abbreviated season and then beat Tulsa in an exciting game to move to 9-0 and earn the New Year’s Six bowl bid against Georgia in the Peach Bowl.  Playing basically a road game against the in-state school, the Bearcats had a chance to win the game and fell just short.

Bearcats coach Luke Fickell welcomes back a roster that has a little rebuilding to do, but the talent-level should be a little stronger thanks to some excellent recruiting classes bringing underclassmen to the roster.

UC has back-to-back games at Indiana and Notre Dame after beginning the year with winnable home games.  If the Bearcats can pick off the Hoosiers and Fighting Irish, they could find themselves in the same position as last year–in the hunt for a Playoff bid but probably looking at a #6 or #7 final rating and a repeat trip to a New Year’s Six bowl.

The Bearcats cannot be counted out this year against the big dogs on their schedule.  A defense that gave up 16.8 points and 325 yards per game last year, could be a little better in 2021.  The secondary coverage should be one of the five best in the nation, led by the top cover corner in the nation in Ahmad Gardner.

The only question for this year’s UC team is the offensive line, which must be rebuilt with more underclassmen than upperclassmen.  In a season where other teams might field 23-year old seniors, this could come to haunt the Bearcats.

Central Florida undergoes a big change as Josh Heupel and his up-tempo, high-powered spread offense have moved to Tennessee, while former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn brings his different style of spread offense to Orlando.  The former offense was driving on the interstate in open country, while the new offense will be like the old blue highway with winding roads and hilly terrain.  It won’t be as flashy, but the Knights could benefit by playing defense a lot less than they did in recent years.  This is going to benefit UCF’s young defense that must break in eight new starters, including four excellent defensive backs.

The UCF offense can become the team’s best defense if they can sustain long drives.  In Heupel’s time in Orlando, UCF had no trouble moving the ball, but they scored so quickly, the defense fatigued.  In the Knights’ three losses last year, second half defense was the reason they lost those games by eight to Tulsa, one to Memphis, and three to Cincinnati.

This is year three for Dana Holgorsen, and he’s 7-13 in two years at the helm.  This is a school that made it public that 8-4 records were grounds for divorce with its head coach, so Holgorsen better hope he can turn things around this year, or he might receive a lump sum alimony check with orders to vacate the premises.

An Air Raid style offense that struggles to pass the ball is an anomaly.  Houston also had a problem holding onto the ball in 2020, and the defense was overly tasked due to a lot of short offensive drives that turned the ball over via fumble, interception, or punt.  

What hurt the Cougars most last year was never knowing if they were going to play from week to week.  They were like understudies when the star had a cold.  They prepared all week and then found out on Friday that their game was cancelled.  It happened eight times!

Quarterback Clayton Tune has the potential to run the Air Raid.  Houston needs to have an extra receiver step up to complement Jeremy Singleton and Nathaniel Dell.  

Defensively, we expect the UH stop troops to show considerable progress this year, especially if the Cougars cut down on the turnovers.  They gave up slightly less than 400 yards per game and 32 points per game in 2020. With most of the top players returning, those numbers could drop to 350-370 yards and 25-28 points per game.  And, what might that bring UH?  Maybe an 8-4 record, and we know what that did to former coaches Major Applewhite and Tony Levine.

Tulsa was the big surprise of the AAC last year.  After multiple years languishing near or at the bottom of the standings, the Golden Hurricane discovered how to play defense.  TU surrendered 21.6 points and 333 yards per game, holding Oklahoma State to 16, Navy to 6, undefeated league champion Cincinnati to 27, and Mississippi State to 28 in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That defense returns 10 starters, so opponents are going to be in for a fight trying to score points on the Hurricane in 2021.  If the offense can live up to expectations, then TU might repeat with another trip to the AAC Championship Game.  Quarterback Davis Brin came off the bench as the backup last year against Tulane and led TU on three consecutive touchdown drives, and then led his team to an overtime victory.  If he can play an entire season like he did in that quarter and a half, Tulsa might be playing at Cincinnati in November with first place on the line.

Tulane has slowly improved year by year during coach Willie Fritz’s tenure in the Crescent City.  Now entering year six, Fritz has a minor defensive rebuild to perform, but the offense should remain potent after averaging 35 points per game and leading the league in rushing.  This is a team that may be a year away from contending for a spot in the conference championship game, and we expect the Green Wave to remain a .500 team this year.

East Carolina coach Mike Houston was the Nick Saban of FCS football during his tenure at James Madison.  Prior to that, he did the inevitable and won at The Citadel.  After a 4-8 record in year one at ECU, his 2020 shortened season record of 3-6 included consecutive wins over Temple and SMU to finish the 2020 season.  This just might be the year the Pirates cross the .500 threshold and return to a bowl for the first time since 2014.  10 starters return to both sides of the ball.  Houston’s short passing game is almost an aerial version of Woody Hayes’ three yards and a cloud of dust.  By spreading the field and throwing quick passes for 3 to 7 yards with an occasional run after catch of another 10-15 yards, it can be difficult to bend and not break for any defense.

The key will be the defense.  If the more experienced stop side can shave a touchdown off its 2020 average, that might be enough for the Pirates to break even in the league.  The problem is that ECU plays Appalachian State, South Carolina, and Marshall out of conference.

SMU enjoyed a 7-3 season that ended with a Frisco Bowl bid that never came to fruition due to Covid.  With nine starters returning to the attack side, one would think that the Mustangs are poised to top their 39 points per game average.  But, the biggest reason why this team moved the ball with relative ease last year is one of the two not returning.  Former Oklahoma backup Tanner Mordecai might be a talented passer, but he isn’t going to match what Shane Buechele did in Dallas.  With an expected drop in offense, and a defense that at best will be as good as 2020, expect the Mustangs to take a step backward this year, but they could still earn a bowl bid.

Since Justin Fuente won 19 games his last two years at Memphis and then took the Virginia Tech job, pundits have predicted the downfall of the Tigers’ fortunes.  Mike Norvell replaced Fuente and guided the Tigers to a Cotton Bowl berth before he took the Florida State job two years ago.  Ryan Silverfield took over last year, and during Covid, UM’s best offensive players opted out.  Memphis still managed to put together an 8-3 record that included a bowl win over Florida Atlantic.

Now, the Tigers face an issue at quarterback as former QB Brady White gambled on the NFL Draft, went undrafted, signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans, and did not make it to the preseason.  Two transfers from Power 5 schools expect to vie for the starting QB job this year.  Former Arizona Wildcat Grant Gunnell and former LSU Tiger Peter Parrish are competing for the job, and we expect Gunnell to be under center when Memphis runs its first play of the 2021 season.  Considering that he had very little help at Arizona, as the Wildcats struggled to compete in the Pac-12, Gunnell looked decent enough to believe he can guide Memphis to a possible break-even or slightly winning record.

South Florida hired former Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott to try to return the Bulls’ program to where it was in the prior decade.  Unfortunately, Scott couldn’t bring any of Clemson’s All-Americans to Tampa.  After going 1-8 with the lone win coming against FCS The Citadel, there is nowhere to go but up for the Bulls this year.  The offense has a chance to be improved this year, but there’s one small problem.  Scott still does not know who will be his starting quarterback as August practices have been underway for a week.  The defense is missing several key parts from a unit that was downright weak in 2020.  Against FBS competition, USF gave up 44.1 points and more than 450 yards per game.  

USF has a difficult schedule this year with games out of conference against North Carolina State, Florida, and BYU.  Winning three games would be considered a major advancement this year.

Navy was one of the most disappointing teams last year, but Coach Ken Niumtalolo failed to get the Midshipmen ready to play to start the season due to Covid concerns.  After an opening game pasting at the hands of BYU, Navy rebounded to get to 3-2, but then they dropped their final five games, scoring just 13 points in the last three.

The 2021 picture is anything but rosy for Navy.  The offense suffered severe losses, as players that would normally come back for an extra year at other schools are starting their military commitment.  When a triple option team has to break in a new quarterback, two new slotbacks, and three new offensive linemen, it is expected that the offense will suffer a drop in production.  Navy only scored 16.6 points per game and rushed for just 178 yards per game, an all-time low in Niumatololo’s 13 years.  Now, Navy embarks on a 2021 season with its toughest schedule in many years.  Marshall, Air Force, Notre Dame, and Army represent one of the toughest out of conference slates in all of FBS football, as all four should earn bowls this year.  This looks like a rough year in Annapolis.

After several really good years under Al Golden, Steve Addazio, Matt Rhule, and Geoff Collins, Temple looked like they pulled off a minor coup when they hired former Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey to keep the good times rolling in Philly.  After an 8-5 season in 2019, Temple looked more like the 2003 and 2004 program that was kicked out of the old Big East Conference last year.  A 1-6 season almost became an 0-7 season, but the Owls benefitted from USF mistakes to pull out a 2-point win.

One would think that the program couldn’t be worse than last year, but the Owls have major rebuilding projects on both sides of the ball this year.

On the positive side, if you can call it that, Temple was one of the most affected teams by Covid last year.  They almost didn’t play at all and only played their first game in Mid-October, losing narrowly to a Navy team playing its fourth game of the season.  2021 should be another tough one at Lincoln Financial Field.

Here is how the American Athletic media voted at the preseason conference meetings.

2021 American Athletic Conference Preseason Media Poll

Team (First-Place Votes)Points
1.Cincinnati (22)262
2.UCF (2)241
8.East Carolina85
11.South Florida43

The PiRate Ratings are not that different.

American Athletic Conference





East Carolina95.394.396.295.3

AAC Averages





The PiRate Ratings are not designed to predict won-loss records for a season, as they have a use by date of the next week’s games.  Nevertheless, we issue predictions just for the fun of it.

American AthleticConf.Overall
Central Florida6-29-4
East Carolina4-45-7
South Florida1-72-10
* Cincinnati picked to win AAC Championship Game

June 30, 2021

PiRate Ratings 2021 NFL Draft Grades

Filed under: Pro Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 11:04 am

In recent years, we have heard from you that you would like to see our NFL Draft Grades with an explanation of why our grades are different from the mainstream. We started this service last year mostly to fill space at a time where it looked like there might not be a season. Looking back at the stats for the post, apparently it was about as popular as our March Madness Bracketology reveal, so definitely we are repeating the process this year.

First, to explain the uniqueness of our draft coverage. We do not look at the players drafted trying to predict what type of career they might have. If a team drafts a quarterback in the first round but has no plans to start this player for at least a few years, the selection might be worthy of an A+ selection by other services, and we would agree using their parameters.

However, our draft grades have a different purpose. We are an integrative computerized/human input rating service. The only reason we have to assign a grade to the draft is by calculating how it alters the teams’ ratings between week 17 and the playoffs the previous season and week 1 of the approaching season. That quarterback, for instance Jordan Love, might eventually be the best one in his draft class around 2023. However, when Love was drafted, it was almost a wasted pick as it failed to affect the Packers’ ratings any more than trading a tested backup for an untested backup. In other words, it was an ultra slight negative.

How does each drafted player appear to affect the team that drafted him in week 1 of the coming season? If he figures to see considerable playing time, that means something. If he figures to start, that means something more. If he figures to be an immediate impact player, that really means something. If he was the teams’ first round pick, whether or not he contributes in the coming year is no different than if he is the 7th round pick. Once, the season starts, teams get no bonus or punishment for playing the 7th round pick over the 1st round pick.

Next, say a team only drafted a couple of players due to trades, but the few they have all figure to contribute immediately. At the same time another team might have piled up picks and took 10 to 12 players, only half that may figure to contribute immediately. We don’t reward the few picks team over the several picks team. Having more picks brings a bonus, because the potential is there for many more players to potentially contribute. So, when Mike Ditka traded his entire draft to get the pick that brought New Orleans Ricky Williams, we figured that Williams would immediately start as the featured back, but the Saints’ overall grade that year was a D-. They had numerous holes to fill on that roster and failed to fill any of them. The bump forward from 3.5 yards per rush to 3.7 yards per rush did nothing to make a 6-10 team better, and when they went 3-13 with three different starting quarterbacks finishing with a QB rating under 60, Williams would have needed to average more yards per game than Jim Brown in his prime to make much of a difference.

It is not an exact science, but neither is a any computer power rating update. However, teams must be adjusted from the end of one season to the start of the next. There has to be some criteria used that approximates improvement or decline in the best method available to the update process. Anybody could have guessed that Tom Brady going from New England to Tampa Bay would totally alter the week 1 power rating of the two teams. As a matter of fact, quarterback is by far the most important factor in the update process. Blind-side tackle is the next most important, and the defensive rush ends are next most important. Each position down to long-snapper on special teams has its own handicapped factor that can influence the ratings update.

Now that you know our process, take a look at our grading scale. We don’t actually use a letter grade as you will see here today, as that means nothing to the rating. There is an internal number that becomes part of an algorithmic equation that adds value to a team’s power rating (occasionally deducts from a power rating if a team has a fire sale and starts a major rebuild.

Our grading scale starts at 0 and maxes out at 10, but only in theory. No team has ever come close to either extreme. Realistically, our draft scores range from a low of 3.0 to a high of 9.0 Anything above 8.0 means a team’s draft class should help them immediately in week 1. Of course, the draft is but one of many factors that go into this, and the overall great draft can be reversed by the loss of many regulars from the previous year.

A score of 6.0 is about par. Teams might become Super Bowl contenders with a par draft just because one key player contributed to the cause. A score under 4.0 means the team will see little to no immediate benefit from their draft.

Here are the scores from first to worst for the 2021 NFL Draft.

TeamDraft Rating
Chicago Bears8.38
Cleveland Browns8.13
Los Angeles Chargers8.13
New York Giants7.88
Miami Dolphins7.63
New York Jets7.63
New England Patriots7.25
Denver Broncos7.00
Atlanta Falcons6.88
Jacksonville Jaguars6.88
Detroit Lions6.75
Philadelphia Eagles6.50
Tennessee Titans6.50
Baltimore Ravens6.13
Minnesota Vikings6.13
Buffalo Bills6.00
Washington Football Team6.00
Kansas City Chiefs5.88
San Francisco 49ers5.88
Carolina Panthers5.75
Cincinnati Bengals5.50
Tampa Bay Bucaneers5.38
Dallas Cowboys5.00
Pittsburgh Steelers5.00
Los Angeles Rams4.88
Arizona Cardinals4.63
Indianapolis Colts4.63
Green Bay Packers4.25
New Orleans Saints3.63
Houston Texans3.38
Las Vegas Raiders3.13
Seattle Seahawks3.13

April 2, 2021

PiRate Ratings Final Four Preview

National Semifinals Spreads


PiRate Bracketnomics

Nearly three weeks ago, we excitedly released our 2021 Bracketnomics report believing we were on top of the NCAA Tournament and knowing which teams were the true contenders and which were the pretenders. We came up with our Final Four teams, and poof, two of them lost before the Sweet 16.

We gave you a list of Gonzaga, Illinois, and Michigan, qualifying Michigan based on whether Isaiah Livers could return and play after the Sweet 16, which he was unable to do. Next, we gave you a list of teams that had a strong resume that should contend for the Final 4, of which Houston was one of those teams. Finally, we gave you the list of the handful of teams that had Final 4-worthy resumes but not as strong as the half-dozen just above. In that group was Baylor.

Three of the remaining four teams meet the PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics criteria to win a national championship. As for UCLA, they are an outlier with very little national championship statistical criteria. Even though we selected a couple of wrong championship-worthy teams, three of the four Final Four teams meet the Bracketnomics criteria we endorse. If Gonzaga, Houston, or Baylor win the title, then the Bracketnomics fundamentals will have proven valid for the season. Let’s look at the Semifinal Games and show you the Bracketnomics Criteria in total.

Efficiency Ratings

93% of all national champions since 1990 have finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and in the top 20 in defensive efficiency.

Offensive Efficiency Ratings


Baylor, Gonzaga, and Houston qualify here. UCLA is just outside the criteria range.

Defensive Efficiency Ratings


Gonzaga and Houston qualify here. Baylor semi-qualifies, because the 6.7% of the teams that won the national title that didn’t meet the defensive efficiency criterion (two times in 30 years), their defensive efficiency was in the top 40. UCLA once again does not qualify here. Because efficiency is the most important criterion, UCLA is not a Bracketnomics’ qualifier. If the Bruins win the title, they crush this system.

Strength of Schedule

All national champions in the last 30+ years have had a strength of schedule better than 5 points per game above average, or to clarify it, a score of 55.0 or better in our PiRate formula.

Final 4 SOS


All four teams qualify with this criterion. The belief that Gonzaga did not play a hard enough schedule is 100% hogwash. Gonzaga defeated Virgina, Iowa, and West Virginia in addition to three wins over BYU. Wins over USC, Creighton, and Oklahoma by 17.7 points per game totally destroys the theory that the Bulldogs are not as strong as the best Power Conference teams.

PiRate R + T Ratings

If this is your first look at our site, the R+T rating is our creation. It measures a team’s ability and likelihood of enjoying a scoring run. Usually, NCAA Tournament games are decided when one team goes on a scoring run to secure the victory or to come from behind to win. This rating looks at the reasons why a team gets that spurt in a game. It happens with extra rebounding, steals, avoiding steals on offense, and turnovers. Because steals are more valuable than all other turnovers, they get their own piece in the formula.

R + T Rating = R + (.5S) + (6 – Opp. S) + T where R = Rebound Margin, S = Steals, and T = Turnover Margin

Historically, national champions are in the top quadrant in R+T ratings. In most years, the top quadrant begins around 12.5 to 15. In this Covid basketball season, the top quadrant line is 11.8 and the top 10% is 14.5.

Final 4 R+T


Once again, Baylor, Gonzaga, and Houston qualify with this criterion, while UCLA does not. Houston’s R+T is typical of a team that puts a game away quickly when they get a spurt, but when you factor tougher schedules for Baylor and Gonzaga, the top three are basically equal, while UCLA is still not qualified.

Upperclassman Leadership

In 90% of the past 30 years, the national champion had multple upperclassmen (juniors & seniors) among their top eight players. When the game is on the line, an experienced 22-year old player is an adult that can handle pressure. An 18-year old freshman is still a teenager.

Final 4 Leaders


All four teams have experienced leadership. UCLA has no seniors, and the loss of their one senior early in the season may be the only reason why the Bruins didn’t get to this point with a 26-4 record rather than 22-9. Houston having three seniors may have a unique advantage this year, since nobody received NCAA Tournament experience last year.

The Clutch Factor

There are going to be possessions in the Big Dance where a team must rely on a player or players to put the load on their shoulders and pick up the crucial basket, rebound, or defensive stop. Think of Reggie Jackson in October. All Final Four teams have had a Mr. March on their roster. Even surprise teams like Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason in this century have had at least one Mr. March on their roster. It must be close to impossible to get this far without that guy or guys. So, this factor is obvious for all four teams remaining.


Baylor and Gonzaga have three Mr. March’s (Mr. April’s) on their roster. It is harder to stop three than it is one, but if the one’s are more like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or MJ, then the one’s can trump the threes. Unfortunately for Houston and UCLA, Baylor and Gonzaga’s three go-to guys are the players closest to the superstars. Here is where we begin to really separate the superior teams from the really good teams.

Three-point Percentage

This is one of two areas where we at the PiRate Ratings were late in endorsing. The reason for this is that prior to about 2015, college basketball teams were not up to snuff on analytics. Once mathematics became a large part of basketball strategy, the game experienced an evolution to where most teams now attempt to shoot the highest percentage two-point shots along with open three-point shots. All that matters is finding a 60% probable two-point shot and a 40% probable three-point shot. If a team can hit 37% from behind the arc, they must hit better than 55.5% from inside the arc to make two-point shooting worthwhile, and the same goes for holding the opponent below those numbers.

The key in this criterion is to have a team three-point percentage of 37.0 or better. Going 3 for 8 is just as acceptable as going 15 for 40. It’s the percentage that matters.

Final 4 3-pt%


Baylor and Gonzaga shoot better than 37% from the 3-point line. UCLA is one made basket away from qualifying and thus would round up to 37%. Houston does not meet the criterion. In a game with Baylor, where the Bears are able to prevent the Cougars from getting multiple second chances, this could be a decider. Read on though to see the other side of this equation.

Dominant Insider Player(s)

Now that we told you the importance of 3-point shooting, now we switch and tell you it is also important to have a dominant inside player or players. A team doesn’t have to have Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Patrick Ewing inside these days to have a dominant inside game. All we are looking for is one player that can score in the low post and averages better than 12 points per game or two front court players that average better than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Final 4 Inside Dominance

Team1 @ 122 @ 20/12

This is the most glaring stat of the entire system. Gonzaga has a post player that averages more than 12 points per game, and the Bulldogs have two front court players that combine for better than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. The other three teams do not have a player that meets this criterion. It makes the Bulldogs prohibitive favorites, because this stat goes hand-in-hand with R+T and the prevention of R+T.

In past years, when a team of smaller players won the national championship, while they may not have had a 6 foot 10 inch monster in the middle, they did have a 6 foot 5 leaper that could score points inside and clean the boards with rebounds. The tiny 1964 UCLA Bruins with no starter over 6 foot 5 still dominated inside with three players that combined for 32.1 points and 17.8 rebounds per game. That tiny Bruin team outrebounded their opponents by more than 8 per game!

True Shooting Percentage Margin

True Shooting percentage is a new age metric that assigns point values to shot attempts. A free throw, a 2-point basket, and a 3-point basket obviously count for different values, so the ability to score points on a possession can be weighted. In essence, this is just another way to look at offensive and defensive efficiency, but it removes the schedule strength factor. Because all the Final 4 teams have adequate schedule strengths, this criterion may show a more accurate estimate. A double digit margin is a sign of a great team. A margin of 5.0-9.9% is really good.

Final 4 TS% Margins


You see the obvious here. Gonzaga is far and away the superior team in this quartet. UCLA looks like a team that should have gone home by the Sweet 16. Baylor and Houston are extremely close.

Double Figure Scoring

In addition to having clutch players, it is great to have at least three players that average 10 or more points per game, preferably four players. A team with one or two big scorers is more likely to have an issue with both having “off nights” than a team with three double-figure scorers. A team with four double-figure scorers is unlikely to see all four players have an off night.

Final 4 DBL FIG


Gonzaga and UCLA have the big four number, while Baylor and Houston have three. All four qualify here. Ironically, had UCLA’s senior star not been injured in game number eight, they would have had five double figure scorers and might have been as powerful as their 1995 national champions.

Offensive Rebounding Rate

Offensive rebounding is the key to having a superior R+T rating, and in the Final four, where all four teams have excellent team defenses, quite often the best offensive rebounding team gets that game-clinching spurt. ORR must also be used in conjunction with schedule strength.

Simply, ORR is the percentage of offensive rebounds a team gets off its missed shots. If a team misses 35 shots (FG and FT with a rebound) and gets 14 offensive rebounds, their ORR is 40.0 (14/35).

In the past, the key number has been 37.5% or three offensive rebounds for every eight missed shots. A team that could hit that mark frequently had an R+T north of 18. In recent years with more three-point shots and a prevalence of Pack-Line defenses, that number has been lowered to 35%. Any team that can retrieve 35% of its missed shots with a schedule strength in the top quadrant is going to be a tough out.

Final 4 ORR


This is where Houston shines, and where the Cougars have their opening to upset Baylor. The issue is that Baylor has the next best ORR. Can Houston get enough offensive rebounds to account for their sub-standard three-point shooting? The probability is less than 50%.

Offensive rebounding is the closest vulnerability Gonzaga has. It is the only reason why at the beginning of March Madness that we had them as the second best overall criteria. However, UCLA has an ORR under 30.0, and that number is not indicative of a Final 4 team. If Gonzaga plays in the title game Monday night, their opponent will have one aspect of the game where they can exploit the Bulldogs’ lack of superiority. We won’t call it a weakness, because it is still better than average.

Two-point Percentage Defense

Two-point percentage is still highly important in the Big Dance. Teams still take 2/3 of their shot attempts inside the arc. The important number here is 45%. If a team holds their opponents under 45% from inside the arc, they are dangerous on the defensive side.

Final 4 2pt D


Now you see why we pegged Houston as a potential Final 4 team before the tournament commenced. Holding opponents to 42.8% from inside the arc, while also having a superior rebounding team has allowed the Cougars to make it this far. Baylor and UCLA just barely hold teams under 50% from inside the arc. Gonzaga is in the gray area between very good and great.

Free Throw Rate

We admit that we failed to fully grasp the importance of this metric until last year. For years, we talked about how every national champion for a long stretch in history had free throw percentages under 70%, basically in the bottom 50% in their season. The teams with the highest FT% didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament, or they made quick exits. There was a reason for this. If these teams needed a high percentage to win, they seldom could use this against superior athletes that maybe didn’t shoot as well from the charity stripe.

We threw the baby out with the bath water! How naive we were for so many years. We even altered our idea of FT Rate, going with a different formula from the norm. Originally, FT Rate was simply FT attempts divided by FG attempts. Some heavy hitters in the basketball metrics world altered this to FT made divided by FG attempts. We endorsed an Ivy League math professor’s peer-reviewed thesis that showed FT divided by possessions was more valuable than the alternatives but still considerably less important that field goal accuracy, rebounding rates, and turnover rates.

Then, like a light bulb exploding above our heads, we began to rationalize why players foul and why they do not foul. Most of the fouls in college basketball happen because the offensive player is too talented for the defensive player to guard. Instead of giving up the easy basket, the defensive player will make contact with the offensive player, hoping the referees fail to notice.

The FT rate is thus very important, but FT% isn’t the reason. It tells us which team is hardest to guard and which defense is superior and does not need to foul to stop easy baskets. Thus, the original FTA/FGA is in fact the important equation to use here. Look for a team that has an offensive FT rate over 31% and a defensive FT rate under 31%. The farther away from 31%, the better.

Final 4 FT Rate


Once again, Gonzaga is clearly the best at these criteria. UCLA has ridden these criteria to five wins in the Dance. Baylor is vulnerable here with substandard stats on both sides of the ball. Houston has a major issue on the defensive side, where they obviously foul way too much. If the Cougars get in early foul trouble in the first half against Baylor, it will be curtains. Baylor doesn’t force fouls, so UH might be okay for one night.

A Head Coach With Past Final Four Experience

If a coach has past Final Four experience, his team usually comes out ready to play without the “tightness” many teams have at the beginning of games. These coaches are better equipped to handle all the extra intangibles that Final Four basketball brings. Obviously, all Final 4 coaches have winning Elite 8 experience, but the regional finals and national semifinals are world’s apart.

Final 4 Coaching


Kelvin Sampson made one Final Four with Oklahoma 19 years ago. He has the experience. Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to the national finals, where the Bulldogs lost by two. Neither Mick Cronin nor Scott Drew have been here before. Gonzaga and Houston get the gold in this criterion.

Conference Champions

Very rarely has the national champion not won either its regular season conference championship, or its conference tournament championship. It isn’t 100% indicative, but it is a strong factor.

Final 4 Champions


UCLA is the odd team out again. Baylor won the Big 12 Conference title. Houston won the American Athletic Conference Tournament after finishing second in the conference race. Gonzaga swept both the West Coast Conference regular season and conference tournament titles. UCLA won neither the Pac-12 regular season nor conference tournament titles.

Scoring Margin

This is the oldest metric that holds up throughout college basketball history. Better than 90% of all national champions have had scoring margins of 10.0 points or better. Lower that to 8.0 points or better, and you approach 100%. A large majority of national champions had scoring margins above 12 points, and a sizable number had better than 15-point margins.

Final 4 Scoring Margins


Three teams satisfy this criterion. UCLA would be on par with David slewing two Goliaths to win the title. There isn’t any past basis to predict the Bruins defeating Gonzaga and the Baylor-Houston winner.

Field Goal Percentage Margin

We almost dismissed this criterion. It is old-hat, and there are newer metrics that rate this ability better. However, this stat still holds up from the 1930’s through today. Historically, the national champion has averaged better than 7.5% superiority in field goal percentage margin. The past net-cutters have frequently topped 10% in this statistic. Only the margin matters, so this can be 52% offense to 42% defense or 47% offense and 37% for defense or any other 10% margin.

Final 4 FG% Margin


As you can see, Gonzaga is the only one of the four teams that meet this criterion. 13.3% is similar to the other undefeated national championship teams. The 1967, 1972, and 1973 UCLA teams that went 30-0 plus the 1976 32-0 Indiana team averaged 11.3% in FG% margin. Gonzaga’s 13.3 is higher than all four of these past greats.

Winning Streak(s)

A team must win six consecutive games (seven if playing in the First Four) to win the national championship. If the team couldn’t win six or seven games in a row during the regular season, you cannot expect them to do so in the Big Dance.

There are two key data points with this criterion. They are one 10-game winning streak or two six-game winning streaks.

Final 4 Winning Streaks


Gonzaga’s 30-0 record easily qualifies the Bulldogs here. Baylor’s 18-game winning streak safely qualifies them. Houston has three winning streaks greater than 6 games, which also satisfies this criterion’s parameters. UCLA has one winning streak of 7 games, which came in 2020 with their former senior star playing. The Bruins do not qualify.


The most obvious information herein is that UCLA made it this far as one of the greatest outliers in tournament history. They barely survived their First Four play-in game with Michigan St. Their overtime win over Alabama was gifted by a terrible officiating mistake in regulation. Their Elite 8 win over Michigan was extremely lucky when Michigan had multiple opportunities to win in the last 30 seconds but basically crumbled under pressure. Using this criteria, Gonzaga should beat the Bruins by 15 or more points.

The Baylor-Houston game is not as cut and dry. Most pundits believe BU is unbeatable in this game, but we beg to differ. Houston is the underdog in this game, but Baylor is maybe a 55% to 45% favorite at best. Both the Bears and Cougars possess the criteria to make it to the National Championship Game.

If you are a Gonzaga fan, you might want to cheer for Baylor to win their semifinal game. While the Bears have an incredible criteria resume, Houston dominates in the one area where Gonzaga is vulnerable.

The 1927 New York Yankees are considered the best baseball team of all time by a majority of baseball experts. Yet ,that team had some weaknesses. Third baseman Jumpin’ Joe Dugan was a below average player at his position. Mark Koenig was an average shortstop. The three-man catching platoon was good but not great. However, that team had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, two of the top 10 players of all time. It had Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, and Bob Meusel, three additional stars that in other years could have been the best player on a pennant-winning team. The pitching staff didn’t get the accolades, but they were the best in the Major Leagues in 1927. The Pinstripes went 110-44 to win the AL Pennant and swept Pittsburgh in the World Series 4 games to none. That Pittsburgh team (actually Pittsburg in those days) was loaded with talent, including Big Poison and Little Poison in Paul and Lloyd Waner, in addition to Pie Traynor, Kiki Cuyler, and three other hitters that had batting averages over .300.

The legendary sportswriters of the 1920’s noticed the Pirates players watching the Yankees take batting practice before the series began. Ruth sent towering home run shots over the very deep Forbes Field right-center field and center field walls well over 400 feet flights. Then, Gehrig stepped into the batter’s box and sent hard-hit balls that were not as high but looked like ropes going over those same spots in the deep wall. The Pirate players were in awe, but that was just two players.

Lazzeri, Meusel, and catcher Pat Collins then got into the batter’s box in succession batting from the right side. Each of the trio then sent balls rifling over the distant left-field wall, again over 400 feet blasts. The Pirate pitchers were mortified and totally psyched out. The Series was over before it started.

Is this Gonzaga team the 1927 Yankees on the college hardwoods? With all the games being played in the Indianapolis area, Baylor, Houston, and UCLA have had ample time to see Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, and Jalen Suggs appear to be Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri. They have seen Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard look like Combs and Meusel.

It is our opinion that Gonzaga is more like the great UCLA national Champions than the 1991 UNLV, 1979 Indiana State, and 1976 Rutgers teams, the last three to make it to the Final four undefeated and not win the title. The hidden intimidation factor is worth 12 to 15 points in GU’s favor. Opponents will be fearful of giving up too many easy transition baskets to really crash their offensive boards, where GU can be exploited. They are likely to hurry their shots and shoot below their norms. Because the other teams in this tournament cannot properly match up with Timme and Kispert, we expect the inside defenders to experience foul trouble.

After Citation won the Triple Crown in horse racing in 1948, 25 years passed until the feat was replicated. Great horses like Northern Dancer and Majestic Prince couldn’t pull it off. When it finally happened again, the horse that did it was the 1927 Yankees of thoroughbred racing. Secretariat forced other trainers to alter how they ran their horses, and it still didn’t work. In the Belmont, Sham tried to run fast early to keep up with Secretariat, and Sham wore out. The greatest horse of the time period ran away with a 31-length victory totally obliterating the record time by multiple seconds!

Is Gonzaga about to become the Secretariat of this generation? The Bracketnomics criteria believe so.

March 29, 2021

PiRate Ratings Elite 8 Spreads

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 10:38 am
HoustonOregon St.9.0

PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics Update

Houston, Baylor, Gonzaga, and Michigan are the four remaining teams that possess the analytics criteria that 93% of the last 30 national champions possessed. Gonzaga and Michigan have the overall best criteria, but most of Michigan’s statistical outcomes includes injured star Isaiah Livers. Houston lacks overall schedule strength, but a win tonight over Oregon State and then a Final Four win over Baylor would give the Cougars the last needed piece of the puzzle in a national title game. Baylor misses on only one main criteria point as well as a couple minor points.

Obviously, the Pac-12 strength of schedules needed to be tweeked upward by a few points, and the Covid issues probably disguised the league’s resurrection. The Big Ten and Big 12 were overrated this year, while the SEC and ACC were somewhat overrated. The fact that the Elite 8 has three Pac-12 teams, and one team each from the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, West Coast, and American Athletic speaks a lot about the balance in basketball this year. The Western half of the country was the better half this year for the first time in more than a decade, maybe in the 21st Century.

March 21, 2021

PiRate Ratings NCAA Tournament Spreads

Sunday, March 21, 2021

VillanovaNorth Texas5.7
ArkansasTexas Tech1.9
FloridaOral Roberts9.9
IllinoisLoyola (Chi.)6.2
Oklahoma St.Oregon St.5.6
West VirginiaSyracuse2.8

March 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Bracketology

Preliminary to Final Prediction

The PiRates have been busy these last 12 hours rearranging the seed lines and replacing unfortunate at-large teams that were bumped twice yesterday, as Georgetown and Oregon State crashed the Dance party with impressive wins.

Five games remain to be played before the regular season comes to an end, and all five games could affect the final seed lines:

In the first game today, if Colgate beats Loyola of Maryland, the Raiders could move up one line, but the bigger possibility is the movement of more than a dozen seeds if Loyola pulls the upset. Colgate figures to be a 13 or 14 seed, but Loyola would be a 16 seed with a win. Colgate is somewhat of another issue, because the Raiders are a Top 10 team according to the NET Ratings, but they did so by facing no serious competition from top 100 teams. We believe the Committee will overrule their own criteria and send Colgate down the seed line.

In game two, St. Bonaventure faces VCU for the Atlantic 10 Championship. We believe both teams are locks to get into the Dance, but the winner and loser could be one seed apart. Or, the Committee might decide that this game doesn’t really matter and keep the two teams where they have them today. This is highly likely, and we are using that belief in our second to last seeding prediction. The Committee will be faced with an afternoon headache, where many teams will have to be shifted to accommodate a potential bid-thief. In fact, they will have two different brackets and keep one depending on what happens later in the day.

LSU and Alabama face off in what brings up memories of the Game of the Year in football, but this is the SEC Basketball Championship Game. Alabama has a sliver of hope to move to the 1-seed line with an impressive win and an Illinois loss in the Big Ten, but we believe they are probably locked in at the 2-seed line. However, should LSU pull off the upset, the Tigers might move up one line and knock somebody back a line.

The big mover and shaker game is the American Athletic Conference Championship Game this afternoon. Cincinnati could steal a bid away with an upset of Houston, and at the same time knock the Cougars down a spot in the seedings. If Houston wins, then everything is copacetic.

Because it will be the last game of the day, and both teams are rather secure in their destinies, we believe the Big Ten Conference Championship Game will be meaningless toward the final seedings. Illinois has done the work to earn a 1-seed, while Ohio State has worked their way back to a 2-seed. The Committee will not have time to alter their brackets at this point, so they will choose to ignore this game.

The important news then is who are the teams on the Bubble? Rather than announce 68 teams like in other years, the Committee will announce 72 teams, the regular 68 plus four alternates in case teams like Virginia and Kansas cannot field rosters for the tournament.

As we see it this morning, Drake is the last team in the field, currently an 11-seed looking at a First Four game against possibly UCLA. Should Cincinnati upset Houston today, the Bearcats would be looking at a 12 or 13-seed, and Drake would be dropped to the alternate pool, while Boise St. or Saint Louis would be dropped from the alternate pool to the NIT. Other teams just on the thin line include Utah State and Syracuse, two teams we show in the First Four, and Wichita State and Colorado State, two teams we show in the alternate list.

The First Four seedings moved from 12 to 11 last night when Georgetown and Oregon State kicked through the Dance hall door. The Hoyas and Beavers cannot be 11 seeds. We slotted them both on the 12-seed line, but we are not totally convinced yet that they will remain there. Doing a little research, the last time a power conference team with a similar record crashed the party like this, Georgia earned a 14-seed. Because teams like Colgate, Winthrop, UNCG, and UCSB are capable of moving up a line, there is a chance for chaos if Cincinnati wins today, because the Bearcats are not deserving of a 12-seed and maybe not even a 13-seed.

Here is how our field looks this morning with Cincinnati not in the Tournament.

Date3/14/2021Morning Edition
2Ohio St.AlabamaIowaHouston
3Oklahoma St.ArkansasKansasTexas
4West VirginiaPurdueFlorida St.Virginia
6ColoradoTexas TechLSUMissouri
8ClemsonSan Diego St.WisconsinFlorida
9Virginia TechLoyola (Chi.)RutgersNorth Carolina
10Georgia TechSt. BonaventureMarylandVCU
11LouisvilleMichigan St.UCLASyracuseUtah St.Drake
12Oregon St.GeorgetownUCSBWinthrop
13Ohio ULibertyUNCGNorth Texas
14ColgateMorehead St.Abilene ChristianE. Washington
15Cleveland St.DrexelGrand CanyonIona
16Oral RobertsHartfordNorfolk St.Mount St. Mary’sTexas SouthernAppalachian St.

Four Alternates

69Wichita St.
70Colorado St.
71Saint Louis
72Boise St.

Note: We have already begun putting our

Bracketnomics Data into a spreadsheet, and we will

have it completed late tonight. We will then spend

Monday looking at the data and be ready to reveal

our opinions on the field on Tuesday. Look for our

annually most read post to publish

Tuesday afternoon, approximately 3 PM Eastern

Daylight Time, giving you plenty of time to read and

then fill out the brackets in your competitions.

March 13, 2021

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Spreads

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Team 1Team 2Spread
ColgateLoyola (MD)12.2
St. BonaventureVCU1.7
IllinoisOhio St.4.1

Today’s Championship Games

All Times Eastern Daylight

12:00 PM: Patriot League


Colgate vs. Loyola (MD)

1:00 PM: Atlantic 10


Saint Bonaventure vs. VCU

1:00 PM: Southeastern


Alabama vs. LSU

3:15 PM: American Athletic


Cincinnati vs. Houston

3:30 PM: Big Ten


Illinois vs. Ohio St.

The PiRates are hunkering down in the galley tonight finalizing our official Bracketology predictions for tomorrow. We expect to issue our final predictions as soon as the Conference USA Championship Game winner is known. Cincinnati has the opportunity to burst a bubble just like Georgetown did winning the Big East Championship.

March 7, 2021

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Spreads

Sunday, March 7, 2021

East CarolinaCincinnati-0.5
LibertyNorth Alabama14.3
BaylorTexas Tech9.4
Michigan St.Michigan-10.3
MarylandPenn St.2.3
James MadisonElon6.2
NortheasternWilliam & Mary8.7
North Carolina CentralSouth Carolina St.8.6
Loyola (Chi.)Drake4.6
Oregon St.Oregon-4.2
Georgia St.Louisiana3.8
Appalachian St.Coastal Carolina-3.8
UNCGEast Tennessee St.2.2
Oral RobertsNorth Dakota8.0
North Dakota St.Missouri-Kansas City4.4

Today’s Conference Tournament Action


Jacksonville, 2PM EST, ESPN

1 Liberty vs. 5 North Alabama

Liberty has already clinched an automatic bid , as UNA is ineligible due to their transition phase to Division 1


12 PM , ESPN

3 Campbell at 1 Winthrop

Colonial Athletic Quarterfinals

At James Madison in Harrisonburg, VA

1 James Madison vs. 8 Elon

4 Hofstra vs. 5 Delaware

2 Northeastern vs. 7 William & Mary

3 College of Charleston vs. 6 Drexel


Saint Louis, 2 PM EST, CBS

1 Loyola (Chi.) vs. 2 Drake

Southern Conference Semifinals

Asheville, NC

1 UNC-Greensboro vs. 5 East Tennessee St.

6 VMI vs. 7 Mercer

Summit League 2nd Half of Quarterfinals

at Sioux Falls, SD

4 Oral Roberts vs. 5 North Dakota

3 North Dakota St. vs. 6 Missouri-Kansas City

Sun Belt Conference Semifinals

at Pensacola, FL

1E Georgia St. vs. 2W Louisiana

2E Coastal Carolina vs. 4E Appalachian St.

Automatic Qualifiers

Liberty 22-5

Morehead St. 23-7

February 28, 2021

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Spreads

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 5:58 am

Sunday, February 28, 2021

HoustonSouth Florida18.8
NC StatePittsburgh3.3
New HampshireUMass Lowell0.8
IdahoMontana St.-13.0
MarylandMichigan St.4.4
Ohio St.Iowa0.1
Western KentuckyFlorida Intl.16.3
Delaware St.Coppin St.-5.8
South Carolina St.Florida A&M-10.4
Utah St.Nevada6.8
ArmyBoston University7.0
NavyLoyola (MD)6.4
Oral RobertsWestern Illinois10.3
South DakotaNorth Dakota St.0.9

Coming Monday–Updated ratings and Bracketology plus a first look at early conference tournament action, including some preliminary “Bracketnomics” data.

February 21, 2021

PiRate Ratings College Basketball Spreads

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 12:00 am

Sunday, February 21, 2021

George WashingtonRhode Island-8.7
St. BonaventureDavidson4.1
TempleSouth Florida1.1
Ohio St.Michigan0.7
IowaPenn St.11.0
Southern IllinoisValparaiso0.3
San Jose St.UNLV-9.2
WagnerSt. Francis (Pa)6.6
ColgateBoston U14.1

Note: Big Announcement Coming Later Today!

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