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SCS.com Jonathan's Journal SCS.com

By: Jonathan
SouthernCollegeSports.com Editor
Contact Jonathan

Jonathan's Journal 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....

[ Updated February 19 ]

LOOKING BACK....

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....

Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES

LOOKING FORWARD....

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

Stanford Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
STAN 10 6 2 7 5 0 0 + 14.3

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.
Criteria Met: 4 / 9.....Rank: (t) 4th

THE HAWKS

St. Joseph's Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
SJU 8 5 2 6 2 2 1 - 17.1

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.
Criteria Met: 6 / 9.....Rank: (t) 1st

THE DEVILS

Duke Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
DUKE 7 6 3 6 5 1 0 + 17.6

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.
Criteria Met: 4 / 9.....Rank: (t) 4th

THE DAWGS

Mississippi State Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
MSU 7 5 3 6 3 2 0 + 12.1

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.
Criteria Met: 4 / 9.....Rank: (t) 4th

THE PANTHERS

Pittsburgh Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
PITT 8 5 3 6 4 1 0 + 13.5

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).
Criteria Met: 5 / 9.....Rank: 3rd

THE POKES

Oklahoma State Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
OSU 8 5 3 6 3 1 0 + 17.5D>

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.
Criteria Met: 4 / 9.....Rank: (t) 4th

THE ZAGS

Gonzaga Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
GONZ 10 5 1 8 4 1 0 + 17.2

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.
Criteria Met: 3 / 9.....Rank: 8th

THE HUSKIES

Connecticut Players with Given Mins/Game Players with Given Pts/Game Rebounding Margin Avg Margin of Victory
10+ 20+ 30+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ + / - 10+ ?
KEY 8 6 2 6 4 2 1 + YES
CONN 8 5 2 7 4 2 0 + 17.4

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.
Criteria Met: 6 / 9....Rank: (t) 1st

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

SECTwo 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.
*SEC STANDINGS*
EAST
Kentucky 8-3 18-4
South Carolina 7-4 20-5
Florida 5-6 14-8
Tennessee 5-6 13-9
Vanderbilt 5-6 16-6
Georgia 5-7 13-10
WEST
Mississippi State 10-1 21-1
LSU 7-4 17-5
Alabama 4-7 12-10
Auburn 4-7 13-9
Mississippi 4-7 12-10
Arkansas 3-9 11-12
Kentucky got back on track Wednesday with a win over Arkansas, but it may be too late for the 'Cats. That's because it appears Mississippi State is running away with the SEC regular season title. One other team that still had a shot going into this week, the LSU Tigers, suffered a huge twelve-point defeat at home to Auburn. Though the Bayou Bengals just jumped into the top 25, they're likely on their way back out of the poll. Vanderbilt picked up a huge win on the road at Alabama to keep the Commodores in the NCAA hunt. Kevin Stallings' team could leap back up to .500 in SEC play with a home win over LSU this weekend. Tennessee's outside hopes of a Tournament berth also stayed alive Wednesday as the Vols knocked off Mississippi in Knoxville.

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.
*SEC WEEKEND SCHEDULE*
SATURDAY
Kentucky at Auburn 1:00 CDT JP*
Tennessee at Georgia 1:00 CDT JP*
South Carolina at Arkansas 2:05 CDT
Alabama at Mississippi State 3:00 CBS*
LSU at Vanderbilt 5:00 CDT FSN/SS*
Florida at Mississippi 7:00 CDT ESPN2
Times CDT     (*) Regional TV
After taking the mid-week off, South Carolina and Mississippi State get back to work. The Gamecocks will travel west to Fayetteville to take on the Razorbacks. UA has lost four in a row and badly needs a confidence-building win over good competition. If things fall right for USC this weekend, the Gamecocks could be at the top of the SEC East standings heading into the final couple weeks of play. MSU will host Alabama in "the Hump" on Saturday. State is 2.5 games ahead of its nearest competition in the SEC overall race and is just a couple wins away from clinching that title. The Tide still has an NCAA shot but must begin to win games when they get the chance. LSU travels to Vanderbilt where the Commodores hope to knock off yet another top 25 team in Memorial Gym. This one is huge for the 'Dores as it would move VU back to .500 in the SEC and give them a great shot at making the Tournament. Struggling Florida will travel to Oxford where the Rebels have already beaten LSU and South Carolina this season.

  • The Mid-Week's Top Player: Matt Freije....The senior from Shawnee Mission, Kansas again showed why he's the SEC's leading scorer and one of the top candidates for the league's player of the year award. Freije scored 32 points on 63% shooting from behind the arc to lead the Commodores to a huge road victory at Alabama. He also connected on 13 of his 15 free throw attempts.
  • On the Rise: Georgia....It's probably too little too late for first-year head coach Dennis Felton's team, but the Dawgs are on a roll as of late. UGA knocked off Kentucky at home last weekend and then upset Billy Donovan's Gators in Athens on Tuesday. A win on Saturday over Tennessee would move the Bulldogs to within a game of .500 in league play at 6-7.
  • On the Slide: Florida....Once ranked number one in the entire country, the Gators are in the midst of a complete collapse. The departure of Christian Drejer doesn't help, but UF was hurting even before that. Florida's RPI is strong, but they'll still need to improve upon a 5-6 SEC record if they want to see their name mentioned on Selection Sunday.
  • NEW Tourney Time Projections:
    NCAA: Mississippi State (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (5), LSU (6), Vanderbilt (8), Florida (11)
    NIT: Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn
    HOME: Arkansas, Mississippi
  • Top to Bottom: (1) Mississippi State, (2) South Carolina, (3) Kentucky, (4) Vanderbilt, (5) LSU, (6) Florida, (7) Tennessee, (8) Georgia, (9) Auburn, (10) Alabama, (11) Mississippi, (12) Arkansas
  • Weekend Predictions: Kentucky over Auburn, Georgia over Tennessee, South Carolina over Arkansas, Mississippi State over Alabama, Vanderbilt over LSU, Mississippi over Florida
      -Last Week's Predictions: 4-2 (.667)   |   SEC Season: 22-9 (.710)
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