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Friday, December 9, 2022

North Carolina is worse than you think, Alabama is better: What it means for the PKI


With two and a half weeks of men’s college basketball under our belts, we’re all ready to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, argue with extended family about how our favorite team is handling the opening slate of games — and, regardless of fandom, watch the quarterfinals of the Phil Knight Invitational to see who emerges with an early-season tournament championship.

Among participants, North Carolina stands out as the clear favorite, with odds of +150 to win the tourney, implying a chance to win of 40%. After the Tar Heels’ runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament last season, they held the top spot in ESPN’s Way Too Early Top 25 from last April all through the preseason, and have been the AP Poll’s No. 1 team three weeks in a row.

And why shouldn’t they? Four of their five starters returned, Northwestern transfer Pete Nance replaced the departed Brady Manek, and three 4-star recruits are coming off the bench. The consensus seems to be that North Carolina’s unexpected trip to the Final Four last season tells us everything we need to know about this powerhouse: A similarly deep tournament run is in store again this year.

Despite the narrative, ESPN Analytics’ College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is unconvinced.

The blue blood began the season ranked 15th by the model, and has only dropped since, to their current position in 23rd. On a season level, BPI sees the Tar Heels with just a 2% chance to return to the championship game in April. As for this weekend’s invitational, BPI prefers Alabama, giving them a nearly 32% chance to win, compared to the Tar Heels 20% chance.



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