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 December 18, 2003 Jonathan's Journal

By: Jonathan Editor
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Jonathan's Journal This week's edition of the Journal takes a look what what it takes to win the national championship by glancing back at previous winners' feats. The weekly look into SEC hoops is also included....

[ Updated February 12 ]


What qualities does it take to be a national champion? That is the question that experts, fans, and coaches from all across the country are asking as they look at their team and the other elite teams that they are battling. With this thought in mind, I decided to take a look back at the last three national title winners and their season statistics. I attempted to find common denominators between those three teams, and in doing so, I hope to be able to judge which of the teams currently highly-ranked appears to have all the variables in place for a national title run. When looking at these stats, I found that the champs from 2000-2001 (Duke) and 2001-2002 (Maryland) were very similar in what they did in their respective championship seasons. Syracuse, the 2002-2003 champ, however, appeared to be different in several respects, though they still shared some of the common characteristics of Duke and UM.

Minutes Per Game
10+ 15+ 20+ 25+ 30+ 35+
DUKE 8 6 6 6 2 0
UM 7 7 6 4 2 0
SYR 8 7 5 4 3 2
Shows the number of players averaging the indicated number of minutes per game for each team
One of the first stats I analyzed was the number of minutes played by players, which often times tells of a team's depth. As the chart to the right shows, it takes seven or eight guys averaging more than 10 minutes a game and five or six averaging more than 20 minutes per contest to make a run. The chart clearly shows that Syracuse played with much less depth than Duke or Maryland; the Orangemen had two players averaging more than 35 minutes a game, while neither the Blue Devils nor Terps had a 35+ minute player. It did seem essential, however, to have at least two guys averaging more than 30 minutes a game.

Points Per Game
5+ 10+ 15+ 20+
DUKE 6 5 2 1
UM 6 4 2 1
SYR 5 4 1 1
Shows the number of players averaging the indicated number of points per game for each team
After looking at minutes, I turned to the average number of points scored per game by individual players. Again, the comparison between Duke and Maryland is remarkably similar. Syracuse, though not by a wide margin, did have a noticeable difference in this stat as well. From the chart to the left, we can infer that it takes about a half-dozen guys scoring at least five points a game and all but one or two of those six also averaging double-figures. This is key because it indicates that a team has multiple offensive options and does not rely on just one or two players to do the scoring each night out. Syracuse, Maryland, and Duke each had one player scoring 20 or more points a game when they won the title.

Scoring Per Game
Total 1st 2nd
DUKE +20.1 +13.2 +6.9
UM +14.1 +7.3 +6.8
SYR +10.0 +4.5 +5.5
Shows each team's scoring margin for all games final, first half, and second half
Turning away from individual stats, I focused my attention on team scoring margin, both overall and in the individual halves. Duke was far and away the best team in this category as the Blue Devils out-scored their opponents by an average of 20 points in 2000-2001. Maryland won by an average of two touchdowns, while 'Cuse came away with an average victory of 10 points. This stat didn't really reveal all that much because no pattern seemed to emerge. However, it is noteworthy that each team had a victory margin of double-figures for the entire season. Duke and Maryland tended to outscore their opponents more in the first half than the second, while Syracuse was just the opposite.

Rebounding / Assist:Turnover
Reb A:T
DUKE +1.1 -31%
UM +3.7 -13%
SYR +2.6 +7%
Shows each team's rebounding margin and assist to turnover ratio
The final two stats I chose to look at are a couple that are very important but are often overlooked by fans: rebounding margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. All three teams had a positive rebounding margin, meaning that they averaged more rebounds than their opponent each night out. While that was to be expected, I was shocked to see that both Duke and Maryland had negative assist to turnover ratios. The Devils had only 69% as many assists as they did turnovers, while the Terps had only 87% as many assists as turnovers. Syracuse was positive in that category, dishing out 7% more assists than turnovers. Again, it is hard to tell much from this stat.


So to mesh all of the above together, what are the main ingredients to a national champion? Obviously, there are many more factors to be aware of, and this small study goes back only three years. But then again, the game is changing so quickly, the stats could provide a distorted view of the process if our look went much further back than the beginning of this century. The key ingredients to be a national title winner include:

  • ...7-8 players averaging at 10+ minutes per game
  • ...about 6 players averaginig 20+ minutes a game
  • least 2 players averaging 30+ minutes a game
  • ...5-6 players averaging at least 5 points per game
  • ...4-5 players scoring an average in double-digits
  • ...1 20+ point scorer
  • ...a average victory margin in double-figures
  • ...a positive rebounding margin

    Coming next week, I'll break down at least a half-dozen of the top teams of the country according to the information above. By comparing this year's teams with the past three years' national champions, we may be able to pick out a favorite or two for the 2003 - 2004 Final Four. Could this be the secret to winning this year's NCAA Tournament office pool? Shhhh...don't tell anybody.


    SECOnly eight SEC teams were in action during the mid-week, with Alabama and Kentucky tipping things off in Lexington on Tuesday. The Tide hung close to UK, minus guard Gerald Fitch, most of the way and only trailed by one at halftime. But the 'Cats jumped out to double-digits early in the second half and played even the rest of the way, winning by eleven points.
    Kentucky 7-2 17-3
    South Carolina 6-4 19-5
    Florida 5-4 14-6
    Tennessee 4-5 12-8
    Vanderbilt 4-5 15-5
    Georgia 3-7 11-10
    Mississippi State 9-1 20-1
    LSU 6-3 16-4
    Alabama 3-6 11-9
    Auburn 3-6 12-8
    Mississippi 3-6 11-9
    Arkansas 3-7 11-10
    The game of the week in the SEC took place in Columbia, South Carolina. This game had been talked about all around the league and lived up to everyone's expectations. Mississippi State fell behind by 12 with just about five minutes to go, but the Bulldogs weren't finished just yet. MSU battled back to within three and tied the game on a three from Timmy Bowers with under ten seconds to go, forcing overtime. Both teams missed opportunitites to take the lead with missed free throws, but it was Rick Stansbury's team that finally converted on the offensive end as the Bulldogs picked up a four-point win on the road against a top 25 team. The Tennessee Volunteers picked up a crucial home victory over Arkansas Wednesday, keeping the Vols' alive in the NCAA race. Vanderbilt also picked up a much-needed victory over Georgia at home. Both the 'Dores and the Vols can climb to .500 in the SEC with wins this weekend.

    All twelve teams in the SEC are headed to battle in league play this weekend. Though four teams are currently ranked in the top 25 nationally, they will each be playing separate games this weekend. The first to take the court is Kentucky. The Wildcats will be seeking revenge on Georgia after the Bulldogs upset UK in Lexington earlier this season. Tennessee will visit Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Both teams could use a win to get some momentum built up heading into the final three weeks of the season. A road win would look great on UT's resume and bring the Vols to .500 in league play.
    Kentucky at Georgia 12:00 CBS
    Tennessee at Alabama 2:00 JP*
    LSU at Florida 2:00 JP*
    Auburn at Mississippi 5:00 FSN/SS*
    Vanderbilt at South Carolina 6:30
    Miss. State at Arkansas 7:00 FSN/SS*
    Times CDT     (*) Regional TV
    Two of the preseason favorites get together in Gainesville. LSU is trailing Mississippi State by 2.5 games in the West, while Florida is two behind Kentucky in the East. The loser in this one could see any chance they have at the division title slip away on Saturday. Auburn travels to Mississippi late Saturday afternoon. Both teams have struggled mightily since the SEC schedule got started, but a win here could provide a confidence boost. One of the bigger games down South this weekend has Vanderbilt traveling to South Carolina. The Gamecocks have lost two consecutive games in dramatic fashion, a one-point defeat at Kentucky when a last-second shot missed and an overtime loss to MSU when USC was up 12 late in the game. This game will tell fans a lot about Dave Odom's team. A win would show that the Gamecocks are mentally tough, but a loss could send USC spiraling downward. The final game of the day has Mississippi State visiting Arkansas. The Bulldogs have never won in Bud-Walton Arena, but if they ever will, this may be the year. The Dawgs are leading the way in the SEC and are on pace to grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

  • The Mid-Week's Top Player: Timmy Bowers....The senior guard from Gulfport, Mississippi scored 13 points and pulled down 5 rebounds for Mississippi State Wednesday at South Carolina. No shot was bigger than his game-tying three with just seconds remaining in regulation. Bowers was also credited with 6 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot in 42 minutes of play.
  • On the Rise: Mississippi State....For the second week in a row, Rick Stansbury's team earns this honor. Though it may be getting redundant, how can you challenge the Bulldogs' success? They're leading the SEC and just continue to find a way to somehow get the job done. A win at Arkansas would be a first in the Bud-Walton Arena.
  • On the Slide: South Carolina....The Gamecocks are still in the NCAA Tournament, but they can't take two more weeks like the last two. USC has lost three of their last four games and has fallen a game and a half behind Kentucky in the East. If there is a consolation, it is that while the Gamecocks haven't always gotten the job done, they've been in a position to win just about every one.
  • NEW Tourney Time Projections:
    NCAA: Mississippi State (1), Kentucky (2), Florida (5), LSU (6), Vanderbilt (8), South Carolina (9)
    NIT: Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn
    HOME: Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia
  • Top to Bottom: (1) Mississippi State, (2) Kentucky, (3) South Carolina, (4) LSU, (5) Florida, (6) Vanderbilt, (7) Tennessee, (8) Alabama, (9) Auburn, (10) Arkansas, (11) Mississippi, (12) Georgia
  • Weekend Predictions: Kentucky over Georgia, Alabama over Tennessee, Florida over LSU, Mississippi over Auburn, South Carolina over Vanderbilt, Mississippi State over Arkansas
      -Last Week's Predictions: 6-0 (1.000)   |   SEC Season: 18-7 (.720)