If you believe in using points-per-possession statistics to guide your bracket picks—and if you haven't embraced these metrics, what are you waiting for?—then consider this fact to be your Polaris: Every national champion from the past 10 years has ranked in the top 20 of kenpom.com's ratings for adjusted efficiency, both offensive and defensive. That profile isn't a given for teams on the top lines of the 2013 bracket, as one No. 1 seed (Kansas), three No. 2s and three No. 3s don't make the cut.
Here's a look at the seven teams that did pass the efficiency test (more or less), including the baffling cases of Florida, which is a juggernaut on paper but a question mark on the court, and Pittsburgh, which is absent from any Final Four discussions yet has the stats of a bona fide contender.
FLORIDA (No. 5 on offense; No. 2 on defense) There's a huge disparity between what the advanced stats show about the Gators (they're the most efficient team in the country) and what the polls say (they're ranked No. 14). Florida could be a solid pick to reach Atlanta as a three seed, but the Gators' overreliance on three-pointers—which account for 40.4% of their shots—is a reason to doubt how well they'd fare in close games; they are 1--6 when the margin is 10 points or less.
INDIANA (No. 1 on offense; No. 19 on defense) The Hoosiers left a rough last impression in the Big Ten tournament—Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan must know their kryptonite—but remember that Indiana won at Michigan, at Michigan State and at Ohio State, and also beat Georgetown on a neutral court. IU has the best combination of sharpshooting (ranking No. 3 nationally in three-point percentage) and offensive rebounding (sixth in the country).
LOUISVILLE (No. 15 on offense; No. 1 on defense) The Cardinals have the nation's best D for the second straight season. They're forcing turnovers at a much higher rate than last year (on 27.6% of possessions, as opposed to 23.1%), and their Russ Smith--led offense has made the efficiency gains it needed to make them a championship threat, if not the favorite.
DUKE (No. 4 on offense; No. 25 on defense) The Blue Devils make the cut with an asterisk because not having 6' 11" power forward Ryan Kelly (injured right foot) for 13 ACC games deflated their defensive numbers. With the White Raven in their starting lineup, they play D like a top 10 team, and between Kelly and guard Seth Curry, Duke's outside shooting is almost a match for the Hoosiers'.
GONZAGA (No. 5 on offense; No. 14 on defense) Don't be distracted by the Zags' weak conference schedule; they're a worthy No. 1 seed with a similar efficiency profile to Indiana's. They finish so well on the interior (making 55.9% of their twos) that they're even more effective than the 2005--06 Gonzaga offense, which featured Adam Morrison and reached the Sweet 16.
OHIO STATE (No. 14 on offense; No. 6 on defense) Indiana and Michigan stole the Big Ten spotlight, but the Buckeyes defend better than either of those teams. With point guard Aaron Craft disrupting opponents, their D is almost as efficient as it was a year ago, when Ohio State reached the Final Four.
PITTSBURGH (No. 9 on offense, No. 17 on defense) The Panthers have done just one remarkable thing all season, and that's hand Georgetown its lone home defeat. The rest of the time they've played surprisingly efficient basketball while staying under the radar. If you're willing to ignore their first-round loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament and the fact that Jamie Dixon's teams have not usually lived up to their seeding, then maybe Pitt is a decent sleeper pick.
Photograph by GREG NELSON FOR SI
AARON CRAFT PG, Ohio State