numberFire: The 5 most inconsistent NCAA teams

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USA Today Sports

Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) works the ball against Purdue Boilermakers center Isaac Haas (44) at the Kohl Center.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a team to be inconsistent. All it means is that the results of their games had higher variance throughout the season — they were simply more unpredictable on game-by-game basis. For a big underdog trying to take down a top seed, this can be a good thing. While it could result in a blowout, it could also lead to a stunning upset.

When trying to figure out which upsets to pick in your bracket, examining which teams lack consistency is great place to start. Here are five of this season’s most inconsistent teams, per our consistency ratings.

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5. Purdue

Inconsistency Rank: 20th

nERD Rank: 4th

The Purdue Boilermakers are a very good team, which is indicated by their very high nERD ranking (full nERD rankings). They own some high-quality wins, including a victory over the Arizona Wildcats and a pair of wins against the Michigan Wolverines.

However, they have suffered a couple of bad losses that stick out for a team that dropped just 6 games all season. Back in November, they lost against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and late in Big-10 play, they also dropped one against a poor Wisconsin Badgers squad, although winning in Madison is never easy.

The Boilers’ inconsistent play is possibly a product of their high three-point attempt rate, which at 40.2% is in the top-100 in the country. Still, inconsistency doesn’t mean a high-end contender like Purdue can’t win the national title; the North Carolina Tar Heels were notoriously inconsistent last year, and they cut down the nets.

4. Arkansas

Inconsistency Rank: 18th

nERD Rank: 29th

The team Purdue could meet in the Round of 32, the Arkansas Razorbacks, are similarly inconsistent. This Arkansas team has beaten some very good opponents this year, claiming victories over the Florida Gators, Auburn Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas A&M Aggies, and Tennessee Volunteers.

That makes it surprising to hear that a team that can hang with the cream of the crop on their best days was swept by LSU this season, losing those two games by a combined 29 points. A team that can beat the Bucknell Bison, a NCAA tournament team this season, by 38 shouldn’t need two overtimes to beat the Georgia Bulldogs.

Arkansas’s Round of 64 opponent, the Butler Bulldogs, is a mirror image of the Razorbacks. Butler ranks just 9 spots away from Arkansas in our consistency rating and is just one spot away ahead in nERD. Based on how similar they are, the Butler-Arkansas game is a tough one to predict, and both teams have shown they are capable of beating a top-notch team like Purdue.

3. Virginia Tech

Inconsistency Rank: 12th

nERD Rank: 35th

You can make the case that for a bubble team (although they were considered by most pundits to be a relatively safe pick to make the tournament), no team has better wins on their resume than the Virginia Tech Hokies. Virginia Tech beat the North Carolina Tar Heels by double digits, vanquished the Duke Blue Devils when they were rolling with their zone defense, and even beat the Virginia Cavaliers on the road, something literally no other team can say. Two wins against teams ranked in the top 5, plus a top-10 win, is quite an impressive feat.

So how then did the Hokies drop one to Saint Louis Billikens? Why did it need overtime to beat non-tournament teams like Boston College and Mississippi? Virginia Tech’s inconsistency makes them a threat to beat just about anyone in the country on any given night, but at the same time, if they go cold, they could easily play just one game in this tournament.

2. West Virginia

Inconsistency Rank: 6th

nERD Rank: 14th

The West Virginia Mountaineers seem to be on this list like clockwork — they are annually a team that is incredibly inconsistent and receives a lower seed than their metrics indicate they should. Their pressing style, which forces a lot of turnovers and easy transition points but can leave their half-court defense vulnerable, is the likely root cause of that inconsistency. There was a stretch early in the season when the Mountaineers looked like the best team in the sport as they defeated the Virginia Cavaliers and Oklahoma Sooners back when Trae Young was terrorizing defensive across the nation.

However, this team has had noticeable trouble closing out games this year, blowing comfortable leads at home to the Kentucky Wildcats and on the road in Allen Fieldhouse against the Kansas Jayhawks. They also suffered some very egregious losses, losing by 16 to the Iowa State Cyclones and by 23 to the Texas A&M Aggies.

Almost every year, West Virginia is the team that you rarely feel comfortable with your favorite team playing. But at the same time, they’re a team that is tough to feel great about advancing far in your bracket. This year is no different, and with prospective tough matchups against quality teams such as the Wichita State Shockers and Villanova Wildcats on the board (assuming they get past a solid Murray State Racers team), it is tough to rely on the Mountaineers maintaining a high-level of play for an extended period of time.

1. Creighton

Inconsistency Rank: 2nd

nERD Rank: 26th

The Creighton Bluejays are the least consistent tournament in the field this year. They are a team that can beat one of the best teams in the country in the Villanova Wildcats just four days after losing by 23 against the Butler Bulldogs. They can beat the Providence Friars by 19 one day and lose by 14 to them just three weeks later. They can hang tough with the Xavier Musketeers, a 1 seed in the tournament, just 3 days after barely scraping by with a 1-point victory over a poor DePaul team.

Some of their most egregious losses, including losing twice to a Marquette Golden Eagles team that failed to make the tournament, came in recent weeks as they played without their best frontcourt player, Martin Krampelj. This is an important factor to watch out for as the Bluejays shaky play has only increased in recent weeks.

While their chances aren’t strong, this Creighton team certainly plays with enough volatility to create some magic in the tournament and could even beat out the overall 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers in the second round. Few would expect it, and it’s unlikely to happen. But that’s the beauty of the tournament, especially with these inconsistent teams: anything can happen.

This story originally appeared at numberFire

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