Who Has What It Takes To Win It All? (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this article last week, I took a basic look at the profile of the past 15 NCAA champions. From that profile, I was able to make a ‘short list’ of potential champs in 2013, consisting of the following 15 teams: Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Miami-FL and Duke.
However, since last week, one of those 15 teams has been bounced from consideration. Syracuse’s late season meltdown – four losses in their last five ballgames – has left them above the seven loss cut-off line.
I’d still call the Orange a ‘live’ longshot – let’s not forget that fellow Big East member UConn in 2011 also lost four of their last five regular season games before reeling off eleven consecutive wins in the Big East and Big Dance tournaments to win the title. Then again, that 2011 UConn team is clearly the ‘exception to the rule’ type of squad when we examine the last 15 title winners.
The next step in the elimination process is to look at the team’s records away from home. The NCAA championship is not won on a team’s home floor. Even with a favorable location one weekend, a team is still going to have to win four ‘neutral site’ games in order to cut down the nets in Atlanta on April 8th. And the best predictive evidence for future success in neutral or hostile environments is previous success is neutral or hostile environments.
In most years, we’ll find a sub .500 road record or two among the list of potential champs, an instant elimination. This year is no exception. Marquette lost just about every tough road game they played all year. They got waxed at Florida, hammered at Louisville and came up short at Georgetown, Villanova, Cincinnati and even Green Bay.
Michigan deserved their #1 ranking in January, winning 20 of their first 21 games. But frankly, my alma mater did not play as well down the stretch of the campaign, and their results away from home clearly left a lot to be desired. The Wolverines lost at Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin and even lowly Penn State down the stretch. Their 1-8 ATS mark in their final nine regular season games clearly tells us that the Wolverines are not as good as advertised right now.
I’ll send the Wolverines and Golden Eagles packing. Voila, we’re down to a dirty dozen!
Next, we move to defensive acumen, based on one of the more under-rated stats in all of college basketball – defensive field goal percentage allowed. Kentucky was ranked in the Top 10 in this category last year.
Kansas ranks #1 in the nation, allowing opponent to hit less than 36% of their shots from the floor. Florida and Georgetown are in the Top 10 in this category. Indiana, Louisville, Oklahoma State and Miami-FL all rank in the Top 30, with Ohio State and Michigan State just behind.
Duke’s biggest weakness in recent years has been in this category, and 2013 is no exception. The Blue Devils didn’t even crack the Top 100 teams in the nation defensively this year. Neither did Arizona. And Kansas State was the outlier of the bunch, ranked #180 out of the 347 Division 1A teams in defensive field goal percentage allowed. I’ll eliminate those three teams from contention here.
As we continue with the statistical profile of a champion, interior play is next on the list. The statistic that I like to use here is rebounding margin. Kentucky was a Top 10 rebounding team last year.
Indiana is the only team from the group ranked in the Top 10 nationally in this statistical category. Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida and Louisville rank among the Top 40.
Miami-FL and Oklahoma State both finished the regular season ranked outside the Top 75. And Georgetown was the real outlier, ranked in the #120’s in rebounding margin. I’ll bounce those three teams here.
Teams with NBA first round picks in their lineup tend to do well come tournament time
Last year, Kentucky certainly had their fair share of first round NBA talent – Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went #1 and #2, followed by Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb among the Top 46 picks. Now that’s a lot of NBA ready talent!
In 2011, UConn only had one first rounder in the draft, but he was the guy who carried the team – point guard Kemba Walker. But we shouldn’t forget the impact of Jeremy Lamb, who decided to return to school following his freshman year, but went in the lottery the following season.
Four years ago North Carolina sent Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington into the first round, followed by Danny Green in the second round. Five years ago, we saw Kansas get three players drafted, including Brandon Rush in the lottery, Darrel Arthur later in the first round and Mario Chalmers at the beginning of the second round. The year before Florida had three lottery picks – Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah.
Kansas will lose projected #1 overall pick Ben McLemore to the draft this spring, and Jeff Withey is a likely first rounder. Indiana has Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo both projected to go in the lottery, and Christian Watford could get drafted as well. Ohio State has Deshawn Thomas; Florida has Patrick Young and Louisville has Gorgui Dieng. Michigan State doesn’t have a projected NBA draft pick, so we’ll say goodbye to Tom Izzo’s squad here.
Next, I’ll examine point guard play, using assist-to-turnover ratio as the key stat.
Louisville’s Peyton Siva is exactly what I’m looking for – a battle tested senior leader with a better than 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell is a freshman (4.3 – 2.0) although senior Jordan Hulls (3.0 - 1.3) is very involved in running the offense. Ohio State junior Aaron Craft (4.5 – 1.8) and his backup Shannon Scott (3.8 - 1.3) both fare well statistically. So do Florida junior Scottie Wilbekin (5.1 – 2.1) and his backcourt mate senior Kenny Boynton (2.9 - 1.3).
This is where Kansas gets the boot. Point guard play has arguably been their biggest weakness all year. Senior Elijah Johnson (4.8-3.0) has struggled to fill Tyshawn Taylor’s shoes from last year. Three other Jayhawk backcourt mates also average more than two assists per game – Ben McLemore, Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe. Between them their 7.4 assists get offset by their combined 4.9 turnovers, nowhere near the 2:1 ratio that I’m looking for.
The final stat? Free throw shooting.
Any Memphis fan will tell you how important free throw shooting actually is come tournament time – the inability to close out the national championship game from the charity stripe cost the Tigers a title at the Alamodome in San Antonio in 2008.
Indiana fares well in this category, connecting at a 74% clip from the charity stripe. Louisville is at 71%. But both Ohio State and Florida finished the season under 70%.
That leaves me with two teams remaining. I’ll call for a Louisville – Indiana championship game matchup with Louisville coming out on top. The Cardinals have star power, depth, experience and talent. They rebound, play defense and win games consistently away from home. Rick Pitino’s squad meets all the criteria that has been effective at predicting past championship. Plain and simple, Louisville has what it takes to win it all.
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