Hoosiers, Cards top list of safe Giants

Peyton Siva and the Louisville Cardinals are one of the safest Giants this season in the tournament. Tony Spinelli/ESPN

As the clock keeps ticking toward Selection Sunday, we've spent most of our time analyzing the teams primed to break a few brackets and the high seeds vulnerable to their slingshots. But it's just as important to know which teams to avoid.

This season, five surefire Giants (all almost certain to be top-five seeds) check in with a Giant rating of 90 or more. That means that against an average Giant Killer, they'd win at least nine out of 10 times. What's surprising, though, is who makes that list.

Indiana and Louisville were the top two teams in both preseason polls. And in an odd piece of symmetry, our model rates them as two of the three safest Giants in the nation. Both Indiana (95.8 GK rating) and Louisville (95.2) draw from top base power ratings (they trail only Florida in that category) and tasty Secret Sauce marks (their similarity to previous safe Giants). In particular, they are bolstered by offensive rebounding -- Indiana ranks fifth in the nation at 40 percent, while Louisville checks in at No. 17 (38.1 percent). In addition, both played tough conference schedules and a host of mid-majors outside of league play, which tends to be the best prep work, according to our model.

Those key ingredients of the Secret Sauce were even more pronounced in the next two safe Giants, and help explain their unexpected appearance on this list.

Pittsburgh (95.3) has been unheralded all season, while Syracuse (93.1) has been a popular whipping boy of late. But our model loves both squads. The Panthers' base power rating is sixth in the country, yet they are projected to land only a 5-seed. They also have a whopping 10.16 Secret Sauce rating on the strength of the aforementioned offensive rebounding (No. 4 in the nation at 40.8 percent) and a GK-heavy nonconference schedule.

The Orange are only 11th in their base power rating, but boast a similarly outstanding Secret Sauce (9.09). Their schedule and offensive rebounding numbers correlate with historical safety in the same way that Pitt's, Indiana's and Louisville's do. But they also don't rely particularly heavily on free throws to generate points (just a 34.9 FTA/FGA percentage, 204th in the country), another subtle factor that our model recognizes as important.

Finally, those grind-it-out Ohio State Buckeyes have a rating of 90 (well, 89.9, but we'll round it up). They are less reliant on their Secret Sauce than the other top-five teams, although it is still positive (3.78), largely due to their schedule and lack of free throw reliance. It's also worth noting that three other teams have Giant ratings of at least 90: Minnesota, Cincinnati and Iowa. None is likely to play a game as a Giant, though, and Iowa almost assuredly won't make the tourney.

We're sure, as always, readers will have questions about our model's selections. We've certainly been peppered with them in recent days, both in the comments section and in emails. So let's open the GK Mailbag for the first time this year and address a few topics.