With bracketological debates reaching a fever pitch, here are the nation's 10 most vulnerable Giants, as projected by our 2012 Giant Killers statistical model.
A few reminders: A Giant Killer is any team that beats an NCAA tournament opponent seeded at least five spots higher in any round, except for squads from the six BCS power conferences plus Butler, BYU, Gonzaga, Memphis, Temple, UNLV and Xavier, who are ineligible. And a Giant is simply any team that could lose to a Killer.
Our model doesn't care about RPI, quality wins or any kind of wins. Instead, through regression analysis of tempo-free, team-level statistics, we determine which of this season's programs most closely resemble teams who have slain Giants or fallen to Killers since 2004. Our model rates all possible Giants from zero to 100, based on their likelihood of falling to a hypothetical Killer; we will proceed to matchup scores once we get actual tournament seedings.
We have rated all Giants among the top 36 teams in Joe Lunardi's latest S-curve. These have a 90 percent or better chance to make the tournament, and are likely to get seeded ninth or higher in their brackets, according to Lunardi.
Look out below! Here are the top 10 potential Goliaths who could go down:
Gonzaga Bulldogs (62.1)
The Bulldogs' efficiency stats are flashy, but they have the least impressive strength of schedule of any Giant ranked in the BPI top 100. Just as important, while they shoot extremely well from short and long range, they rely heavily on scoring from the foul line -- a radioactive red flag for Giants at this time of year.
Key stat: 24.3 percent of Gonzaga's points come from free throws, 19th-most in the NCAA, as does 97.5 percent of its scoring margin.
Vanderbilt Commodores (49.9)
I swear, we've got nothing against the Commodores, we really don't. It's just that season after season, Kevin Stallings puts together big, sharpshooting teams designed to play well enough in the SEC that Vandy makes the NCAA tournament. Season after season, the strategy works -- but our model notices the Commodores' problems with turnovers and rebounding, and predicts early-round trouble. And season after season, Vanderbilt obliges -- with crushing losses to Siena in 2008, Murray State in 2010 and Richmond in 2011. All the key players are back this season, and the results are looking mighty similar.
Key stats: The Commodores turn the ball over on 20.4 percent of possessions (ranking 174th in the NCAA), partly because they allow steals on 11 percent of possessions (290th). They force turnovers on just 19.2 percent of opponent possessions (231st), allow opponents to grab offensive rebounds on 32.8 of missed shots (204th), and surrender blocks on 11.4 percent of shots (308th).
Florida State Seminoles (47.2)
You can tie other teams' arms behind their backs -- and the Seminoles' defense comes close -- but if you throw the ball away a quarter of the time you touch it, you risk throwing the entire game away against any opponent who finds a way to shoot.
Key stat: Florida State turns the ball over on 24.1 percent of possessions, ranking 330th in the country -- just behind 4-26 Chicago State.
Memphis Tigers (43.9)
The Tigers' shooting percentages, inside and outside, for and against, are hard to argue with. But they're coming out of a relatively weak conference, which historically has made Giants considerably more vulnerable, and a Killer could exploit their weakness on the boards.
Key stats: Memphis collects offensive rebounds on just 30.5 percent of misses (ranking 234th in the country), and allows opponents to grab rebounds on 31.9 percent of missed shots (ranking 167th).
Temple Owls (40.0)
The Owls have legitimately outstanding shooting, particularly from behind the arc, but the Owls' offense is leading many analysts to rate them higher than their full statistical resume would suggest; they're at No. 26 in BPI, somewhat lower than most of their projected seedings. Their lack of height and perimeter play makes them look more like a Killer than a Giant at times, and if they meet an underdog who can play inside (like Morehead State did last year), watch out.
Key stats: Temple grabs offensive rebounds on just 31.4 percent of missed shots (ranking 203rd in the country), and forces turnovers on only 19.4 percent of opponent possessions (217th).
Iowa State Cyclones (38.5)
Like Vanderbilt or Florida State, Iowa State is a much better team than Giant. The Cyclones let opponents take a lot of shots, and a lot of good shots, but amp up their efficiency by crashing the defensive boards. Unfortunately, our model finds that forcing turnovers and stifling 2-point shots are important for warding off Killers, while limiting opponent offensive rebounds doesn't add much to a Giant's survival chances. This means Iowa State will probably have an easier time against Texas in the Big 12 tournament on Thursday night than it would against, say, Belmont.
Key stats: The Cyclones generate turnovers on just 18 percent of opponent possessions (ranking 288th in the NCAA), and allow opponents to shoot 50.3 percent from inside (267th).
Virginia Cavaliers (34.6)
The Cavaliers play throttling defense at a snail's pace -- and they have to, because they don't give themselves many second chances on offense. Their first-round opponent should take a close look at Virginia's Jan. 7 game against Miami -- a Giant that plays like a Killer -- when the Cavs missed 34 of 55 shots but grabbed only 10 offensive rebounds, and were lucky to eke out a one-point win.
Key stat: Virginia nabs offensive rebounds on just 28.1 percent of missed shots (ranking 282nd in the NCAA).
Baylor Bears (34.5)
Baylor is highly efficient at both ends of the floor, but vulnerable to aggressive defenders.
Key stats: Baylor turns the ball over on 21 percent of possessions (ranking 215th in the NCAA), and allows opponents to grab offensive rebounds on 32.8 percent of misses (205th).
Louisville Cardinals (32.2)
The hustling Cardinals share a number of statistical traits with Rick Pitino teams from the past: They constantly threaten to steal the ball, they make it nearly impossible to shoot effectively from inside, and their positioning emphasizes offensive over defensive rebounding, which is helpful in fending off killers.
But they turn the ball over, and they're one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. Look at their losses, and you'll see how hard that combination makes it for them to play catch-up when they fall behind. There's a reason they're seeded seventh in the Big East.
Key stats: Louisville turns the ball over on 21.6 percent of possessions (ranking 246th in the NCAA). The Cardinals are also shooting an abysmal 31 percent on 3-point attempts (ranking 296th), leading to an effective field-goal percentage of 47.8 percent (220th).
Kansas State Wildcats (30.8)
By the numbers (BPI: 20), the Wildcats are somewhat better than the seeding they're likely to get, which should probably scare most opponents -- but not high-risk/high-reward Killers, because the Wildcats are prone to turnovers and highly reliant on free throws.
Yes, its monstrous offensive rebounding and superior inside presence has allowed K-State to play efficiently at both ends of the court this season, but remember, Giant Killing isn't (just) about average efficiency. It's about the capacity for a good team to be rendered inefficient on a given night.
Also, who was Kansas State's toughest non-conference opponent this season? North Florida? Loyola-Chicago? Maryland-Eastern Shore? (Yes, we know they played West Virginia and Alabama, but you get the point.)
Key stats: The Wildcats turn the ball over on 21.4 percent of possessions (ranking 240th in the country), and score 22.5 percent of their points on free throws (55th-most), which actually understates their reliance on getting to the line, because they're shooting just 66.3 percent (261st in the NCAA) on free-throw attempts.
Honorable mention: The South Florida Bulls (63.2) have the highest Vulnerability score of any power-conference team that could still make the tournament, but won't be seeded high enough to qualify for Giant status. On Monday, I wrote that despite their height (averaging 77.7 inches, 30th-tallest in the NCAA), the Bulls couldn't stop my mother from blocking their shots. Obviously, I should apologize. Sorry, Mom!
Honorable mention No. 2: The entire Pac-12, in which a half dozen teams had a boatload of weak conference mates to beat up on this season. Oregon (63.0), Colorado (59.5), Arizona (58.1) and Stanford (48.2) would all make this top-10 list -- except that none of them are going to make the tournament as Giants, or at all.
Safest Giants: To wrap things up, our model sees six Giants as particularly hard for Killers to knock off. The teams with a Vulnerability Rating of 2 or less are Syracuse, North Carolina, Ohio State, Purdue, Cincinnati and Kentucky. The Orange turn the ball over on fewer than 16 percent of possessions while forcing opponents to give up the ball on nearly 26 percent of possessions, by far the largest differential of any Giant.