During the 2012-2013 college basketball season, there has been one consistent theme: anyone can win it all. This is clearly hyperbole, but the consensus has been that the field is wide open. But is it really? Numbers and logic say it isn’t.
First the logical reason why the field isn’t as wide open as people are making it out to be is that there aren’t great teams this year. (This isn’t the thinking in the analytics community – ESPN Insider). If there’s so much criticism of the field being so average and the lack of great and even really good teams, how are so many teams capable of winning 6 games against like competition? Teams that aren’t great aren’t great for one primary reason: they don’t win enough. If the teams aren’t all that great, probably not a lot of them are capable of beating 6 quality opponents to win a national championship.
Let’s look statistically and more objectively how short the list of contenders are.
Since Ken Pomeroy tracked advanced statistics for college basketball, the 2011 Connecticut team had the worst offense and defense. Those are the two primary factors in winning a basketball game. Here are the list of national champions and how they performed in terms of offensive/defensive efficiency (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions) and possessions per game.
|YEAR||TEAM||OFF EFFICIENCY||DEF EFFICIENCY||DIFF||PACE|
Since 2003, no team that scored fewer than 115.7 points/100 possessions while allowing no more than 90.3 points/100 possessions and having fewer than 65.4 possessions won a national championship. Now, this doesn’t mean if a team scored 115 points/100 possession that they can’t win… Nor does it mean a team that allows 90.5 points/100 possessions can’t win. So for the sake of extending the range, let’s say our range is this (I’m being more lenient on possessions since several teams won in the mid 60’s… Not many teams won with less than 120 offensive efficiency or greater than 90 defensive efficiency):
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 116.0 and greater
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 91.0 and fewer
TEMPO: 64 possessions and greater
Here are this year’s teams that fit those numbers:
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 124.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 88.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 35.7 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
TEMPO: 67.9 POSSESSIONS
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 120.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 89.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 31.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
TEMPO: 65.0 POSSESSIONS
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 119.9 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 90.3 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 29.6 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
TEMPO: 68.5 POSSESSIONS
Those are the only teams that fit the range of the national championship winners from 2003-2011 on: offensive/defensive efficiency and tempo. If you factor in the optimal difference of offensive and defensive efficiency (something above 30 points) with the preferred tempo of above 65, here is the other team that can qualify:
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 113.2 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 81.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 32.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
TEMPO: 66.9 POSSESSIONS
If Louisville wins it all, in modern history, they’ll be by far the worst offensive team to have won it.
The team that can push the current trend of tempo is Florida. KenPom has Florida ranked as the best team in the nation in terms of advanced statistics:
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 120.1 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY: 82.7 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
DIFFERENCE: 37.4 PTS/100 POSSESSIONS
********TEMPO: 62.7 POSSESSIONS
Florida has the greatest difference between offensive and defensive efficiency, but their tempo may be a problem. However, when Connecticut won it all in 2011, none of their NCAA tournament games had greater than 65 possessions and Duke’s highest tempo game during its 2010 run was a 64 possession game. So during the NCAA tournament, a quick tempo is probably less important than playing efficiently on offense and defense.
The other issue Florida has is they don’t get to the free throw line at a high rate. Free throws attempted per field goal attempt is a tracked statistic by KenPom. I should preface Florida’s troubles by saying this isn’t an essential stat to winning a national championship. Teams have been ranked in the mid 100’s (like Duke’s 2010 team) and won a national title. However, Florida’s FTA/FGA rate is under 30%. The worst team was the 2011 UConn team at 33.8%. If the Gators win it all, they’d be significantly, the slowest paced and worst free throw rate team to win it in modern history. That may be too many hurdles for them to get over during the tournament.
As random as the NCAA tournament can be, and usually is, the team that wins it all typically has a combination of an elite offense, elite defense and at least an average tempo.
If history repeats itself with championship winnings teams that have this statistical resume, odds are: Indiana, Gonzaga, Duke, Louisville or Florida will cut down the nets. The national championship is probably down to those five teams. It’s no coincidence those are the five top teams in the KenPom rankings.