This week's Journal finishes up the discussion of what it takes to win the national title by comparing some of this year's top teams with previous champs. Also included is the weekly look into SEC hoops....
Last week, we took a look at what the previous three years' national champions have been made of. By looking at them statistically, we were able to pull out a few common denominators from Duke, Maryland, and Syracuse. Here's another glance at those....
Now that we know what keys it is that we are looking for in this year's contenders, we match these factors up with those teams' stats. I have chosen eight of what appear to be the top national title contenders as of this week. The stats used are post-Tuesday, February 17.
The Cardinal meet four of the nine criteria, which, you will see, is about average. Like each of the other teams, they win by a double-digit average, and like everyone but SJU, they have a positive rebounding margin. Stanford has the suggested six 20-minute and two 30-minute a game players. While the Cardinal do not have a 15-point scorer, they actually exceed the standard for 5- and 10-point scorers.
The Hawks are the only team of the eight studied that do not have a positive rebounding margin this season. St. Joseph's is also the only team with a player averaging more than 20 points, with player of the year candidate Jameer Nelson's nearly 21 a game. Across the board, SJU looks very good as the Hawks meet two-thirds of the suggested goals.
Since Duke was one of the three recent national title winners, it is interesting to see this year's team compared with the '00-'01 club. The Blue Devils have the positive rebound margin and the double-digit win average, but by having three 30-minute players (as opposed to the suggested two), this year's team may have not as much depth. Because of that, Duke has an above-average five 10-point scorers.
The Bulldogs' lack of depth is shown by the fact that they do not meet the 10- and 20-minute reqiurements but exceed the recommendation for the number of 30-minute players. MSU is nearly perfect in the point categories but does lack the 20-point per game scorer that the last three years' national champs had. The Bulldogs also meet the positive rebounding margin but have the lowest margin of victory of the eight teams.
The Panthers of course meet the rebounding and margin of victory guidelines. Pittsburgh is one of only three teams who have four 10-point scorers each night out, meaning the Panthers have the weapons to use even when not everyone is firing on all cylinders. Pitt should also be able to stay well-rested since the Panthers play eight players at least 10 minutes a game on average, though they turn to the studs when it counts most (three 30+ minute players).
Oklahoma State is another team that is able to allow their players a breather; the Cowboys also play eight players at least 10 minutes per game on average. Because of this, it is also not surprising that OSU has six guys averaging at least 5 points a contest. As you might imagine if you've watched this State team play, the Pokes out-rebound their opponents. The Cowboys' margin of victory is the second highest among the eight teams surveyed.
Gonzaga appears to be the least qualified of the teams observed. The Zags meet the double-digit victory and rebounding margin qualifications, but that is nearly it. The only other category that Gonzaga is a qualifier in is that the Bulldogs have four 10-point scorers. It is important to note, however, that Gonzaga has ten players playing 10 or minutes a game, signifying the Zags have depth. As you might expect, they also have eight scorers with more than 5 points a game.
Connecticut was selected by many as the preseason favorite, so where do the Huskies stand now? Even with five losses, UConn meets two-thirds of the criteria. The Huskies have an excessive seven scorers with 5 or more points a game as well as the recommended four 10-point and two 15-point scorers. And like everyone else, UConn has a positive rebounding margin and out-scores the opposition by double-digits.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
So to put it all together succinctly (if that's still possible), I believe that Stanford and Connecticut appear the most qualified. Both have plenty of depth according to the information above. One flaw with UConn is that the Huskies have not been able to get the job done in big games this year, while a major flaw with Stanford is their lack of a big-time scorer. St. Joseph's is the only one of the bunch with a 20+ point scorer but has not been a good rebounding team this year. Whether or not that hurts them against a big, physical team in the NCAA Tourney remains to be seen. Pittsburgh and Duke sit just behind those three and certainly have an excellent shot. Both teams appear to have the depth and scoring, just to a slightly smaller extent than the three mentioned previously. Though very good teams, it looks like Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Gonzaga would be the dark-horses of this group of eight. The Dawgs, Pokes, and Zags have certainly proved they are worthy of respect and will have to be reckoned with in March. One final important note: six consecutive, eleven of the last thirteen, and twenty-five of the last twenty-eight national champions in college basketball have come from east of the Mississippi River. Edge to UConn over Stanford? We shall see....
THIS WEEK IN SEC HOOPS
Two of the league's top teams, Mississippi State and South Carolina, had the mid-week off. The demise of the Florida Gators continued Tuesday night as Georgia made up a halftime deficit of five points and eventually won the game by fourteen. The news of starter Christian Drejer's departure will only make the remaining road that much harder for Billy Donovan's club.
All twelve conference teams are in action sometime on Saturday. Two teams working hard to get themselves back to .500 in the league, Tennessee and Georgia, will battle in Athens as the Dawgs look for their third win in a row at home in just eight days. Kentucky will visit a hot Auburn team that is fresh off an upset win over LSU. Tubby Smith's 'Cats have already lost twice on the road in the SEC this season, and Auburn could use a win to get within two games of the break-even mark in the league.