Looking to get a leg-up on your office NCAA pool, but you honestly don't pay any attention to college basketball until mid-March? Even if you do, it's impossible to keep track of nearly 70 teams, even if you knew which 70 teams out of hundreds would be playing at this time of the year. I have an answer for you.
Consider perusing the excellent database of Ken Pomeroy. He's something of the foremost authority on college basketball analytics, and has information for you on every team, and rankings a whole lot more thorough than the RPI. You can click "Help" on that page to get further explanations, but here are what the rankings are meant to represent in his words:
The purpose of this system is to show how strong a team would be if it played tonight, independent of injuries or emotional factors. Since nobody can see every team play all (or even most) of their games, this system is designed to give you a snapshot of a team’s current level of play.
. . .
I would describe the philosophy of the system as this: it looks at who a team has beaten and how they have beaten them. Same thing on the losses, also. Yes, it values a 20 point win more than a 5 point win. It likes a team that loses a lot of close games against strong opposition more than one that wins a lot of close games against weak opposition.
His major focus is a tempo-neutral approach. Not all teams play at the same pace, so total points scored and allowed can be misleading (not to mention strength of schedule). Pomeroy attempts to look at pace and its impact on games, not simply the bottom line of points scored.
There's more to help you out than just simple rankings, though.
If you click a team, any team, you get a full scouting report for every team in Division 1 basketball. Here's Old Dominion, for an example. Right there you have an idea of what sort of defense they play. What their strengths and weaknesses are (red = weakness, green = strength). You have an idea of their pace, of their relative height, and in general how they play, how they win, and how they lose. If you're looking for a twelve that might beat a five, or a seven that might make a run, here's where you can start. The details in those scouting reports give you the profiles, so you can get an idea of how a team might take an otherwise better team out because size just doesn't affect them, or because their guard play can pierce a zone with impunity. Or because the high seed needs their two guard to hit his perimeter shots and that low seed doesn't let that happen.
Even if you don't want some nerd and his stats to affect how you pick your bracket, this is a great tool just for simply watching the game. Under the player stats you can see who the major contributors are for that team you've never heard of, and what makes them major contributors. You can see which guys might not get the headlines, but are still important. In short, even if you feel like picking a bracket blind (which is certainly fun and can certainly win, don't get me wrong), this can still tell you who you're watching and what you're watching for once it's locked in.
He also put together a nifty tool called FanMatch, where the match ups in each game are broken down to rank every day's games in terms of watchability. You can watch any game you want in March, but FanMatch can give you an idea of which game to start out watching if you don't have one already.
As with all forward thinking analysis, this is best served as a starting point rather than an end point. The best designed stats will still likely always miss something, so the more you can supplement them with your own understanding the better. But what Pomeroy gives you is a fantastic starting point, and all you need if you feel like being lazy but don't feel like random guessing. For years now I've put together multiple brackets every year just to see what works and what does not. My best brackets are usually have the KenPom rankings as a basis, and then adjusting those on what makes sense, but the brackets with Pomeroy's information as a basis are almost always better than those -- mine and the rest of the pool -- that do not.
Just some more stuff to think about this week.