The 2012-2013 NCAA Tournament bracket will become a mess by the time four teams punch their tickets to Atlanta. This year’s tourney is going to stay true to its unexpected outcome. Upsets will happen, and top tier teams will lose games to otherwise inferior opponents. However, fans can turn to a specific set of statistics that may serve as indicators to help decide whether a team can make a run or not. The following are some stats that can help assess the landscape of each bracket region, along with some teams that may benefit from excelling in each specific area.
TURNOVER AND STEAL PERCENTAGE
As 68 hopeful teams begin to prepare for a shot at the Final Four, every head coach across the country attempts to instill the awareness in his team that each offensive possession holds significant value. With elimination looming and a potential trip home just one bucket away, teams must find ways to increase offensive efficiency. Turnover percentage is a direct measure of how secure a team is with the ball per 100 possessions. Steal percentage refers to how many swipes a team can secure per 100 of the opposing team’s possessions. If a team can end their opponent’s possessions without shot attempts at a high frequency, this gives them a clear-cut advantage.
BIG SIX CONFERENCE
Michigan finished the season at the head of the class with a turnover percentage that sits at 14.3 percent. Wooden Award finalist Trey Burke sets the tone for the Wolverines. When considering his usage rate and just how often the ball is in his hands, Burke’s turnover rate at two turnovers per game is an impressive feat. His assist/turnover ratio of 3.3 shows that he can create open shots for his teammates and does not throw the ball away often when doing so. Louisville’s dynamic duo of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith takes a proactive approach to defense and can cause nightmares for opposing offenses. Both premier players finished the regular season in the Top 35 in steals, and are the main forces behind Louisville swiping the ball on 15.8% of its opponent’s possessions. Not only will steals hurt an opponent’s offensive efficiency, but it will most likely also lead to easy, fast-break buckets. Louisville is not going to sneak up on anyone, but they can put the clamps down early with their on-ball pressure.
South Dakota State’s stand-out guard, Nate Wolters, has an opportunity to put himself and his team in the spotlight once early-round play begins next week. Wolters does it all on the offensive end for the Jackrabbits, averaging north of 20 points and just shy of six assists per game during the regular season. Nate, along with Chad White and Brayden Carlson, are the main reasons why SDSU takes such good care of the basketball. Those three have a combined 313 assists on the year, but just 153 turnovers, and lead the Jackrabbits to a low turnover percentage of 16 percent. If you haven’t heard of VCU’s Havoc defense by now, then you probably haven’t been paying any attention. The Rams take advantage of their super-quick, ultra-athletic roster by employing their own version of a zone press. They consistently force opponents into lethal traps and force errant passes into imaginary lanes. Both Briante Weber and Darius Theus finished the regular season in the Top 10 for steals and averaged a ridiculous 5.3 steals per game. However, forcing teams into making bad decisions only works if all five players are actively putting pressure on the offense. Commonwealth secures a steal in 17 percent of its opponent’s possessions. If you draw the Rams as an opponent on Selection Sunday, you better get ready to work offensively.
OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS PER GAME
With unpredictability as the only constant in college hoops, every team suffers the frustrations of an off shooting night. Offensive rebounding is one way to combat an inefficient performance on the offensive end of the floor. When shots aren’t falling, effort on the glass can be relied upon for more opportunities at clean looks. A team can go ice-cold from the floor, yet weather the storm with an increased number of possessions. Not only does a team secure itself more possessions as offensive rebounding increases, but shots closer to the basket should also see a spike.
BIG SIX CONFERENCE
In 34 games this season, Syracuse has grabbed 491 offensive rebounds to the tune of 14.4 per game. As a team, Cuse relied heavily on second chance opportunities as six different players ended the year with 40 or more offensive boards. The Orange must take advantage of their superior size and one way to do that is control the paint. Their starting lineup is filled with ridiculous length as point guard Michael Carter-Williams stands at 6-6, while no other player along the frontcourt is shorter than 6-8.
Colorado State’s roster is top heavy with offensive rebounding contributors. The majority of their second chances came from just two players. Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung combined for 239 of the team’s 474 boards. The Rams don’t necessarily shoot the ball well from the field and their ability to get quality looks will only get harder as they advance to longer, more athletic teams. In that case, they will have to scrap for as many possessions as possible.
FREE THROW RATE AND PERCENTAGE
Oftentimes, free-throw shooting is viewed as a universal statistic. Either a team is good at the stripe or they are not. Free-throw rate, specifically, measures how often a team gets to the line while percentage measures how successful the team is at converting their attempts. Free-throw shooting, in general, has become an epidemic these days in college basketball. Teams are overlooking the importance of knocking down their freebies. An uncontested 15-foot shot with the clock stopped is one way for the underdog to make up for the deficiencies they face against powerhouse teams.
BIG SIX CONFERENCE
Indiana managed to finish the season ranked eighth in free-throw rate. In 32 games this season, big-man Cody Zeller attempted 7.3 free-throws in each of those contests. As a 75.6% shooter, those are easy points for a team that already carries the advantage in so many other statistical categories. Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford reached the stripe for 114 and 141 attempts, respectively. Those three marquee names lead the charge for a team that attempted a whopping 825 free-throws this year. Oklahoma State’s top four volume free-throw shooters of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte have combined for a total of 604 attempts. This obviously doesn’t mean much if they cannot connect on those at a high frequency, but fortunately for the Cowboys, none of those four players have a free-throw percentage below 74.7%.
Saint Louis finished the regular season in the Top 20 in free-throw rate. The Billikens’ roster possesses four players that have 75 attempts or more on the season. As a team, they finished with 698 attempts in 31 games. They don’t necessarily light up the scoreboard on a nightly basis so they will be forced to scratch out as many points at the line as possible. Their two leading scorers, Dwayne Evans and Cody Ellis, lead the way at the stripe as well. Each player gets to the stripe at a high rate, shooting 77 and 84.7 percent respectively. Davidson led the entire nation in free-throw percentage. They connected on 80.1% of their attempts, making 546-of-682 on the season. No Wildcat starter was below the 72.2% mark on the year. Their scoring trio of Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks and Nik Cochran hit their freebies at a rate of 83.9%. If you’re a team that draws Davidson early on in the tourney, disciplined defense will be essential.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
When attempting to predict the winner of a particular contest, schedule strength is not necessarily a specific factor that will allow you to evaluate whether or not a team gains the matchup advantage. However, teams can utilize these games as feedback in order to learn the areas of the game that they need to work on. By playing tougher opponents, players adapt and learn how to handle specific in-game situations. Teams that schedule softer opponents will naturally have a small amount of doubt in the back of their minds. Those teams are asking themselves if they can compete with the premier teams in the country. Take Connecticut’s run to the 2011 Championship as an example. Picked to finish eighth in the Big East, the Huskies made a historic run through the Big East Tournament with five wins in five days. Knowing that they had just completed a perfect run in that year’s best conference, they were able to carry the momentum to a title.
BIG SIX CONFERENCE
Michigan State tested themselves early and often in non-conference play this year. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they did not always pass those tests. They dropped an early neutral-site game to the over-achieving UConn Huskies and after an impressive victory over Kansas, they fell short to an extremely talented and experienced Miami Hurricane team. Big Ten conference play brought the bumps and bruises to just about every team in the league this season. Despite a three-game losing streak down the stretch with losses to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan, they ended the regular season relatively unscathed. As conference play began to wind down, Adreian Payne started to ratchet up his game, as well. He has increased his points per game to 13.4 (last eight games), up three points from his overall regular season average. As a coach, you hope that a tough schedule early on will allow your players to peak at the right time.
San Diego State is one mid-major that has climbed to higher national status with its play over recent years and this past season was no different. The Aztecs challenged themselves in their first game of the year with a loss to Syracuse. The rest of their non-conference schedule was highlighted by a split with two Pac-12 teams, beating UCLA by nine. SDSU was tested in conference play in a solid year for the Mountain West Conference. With two games each against Colorado State, New Mexico (three total) and UNLV, the Aztecs are one team that will not shy away from superior competition.
TWO-POINT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Efficient two-point field goal percentage can be achieved in two different ways. First, a team can have great playmakers that create shots for themselves or others. The second way deals fundamentally with whether or not the team can knock down shots. Not many teams can stay hot from long-range over a long period of time. Eventually, teams catch up with what you are trying to accomplish and they begin to shut down your strengths. In that case, teams must be able to get clean looks at the rim.
BIG SIX CONFERENCE
Florida has been the victim of sporadic guard play this season and it’s time for head coach Billy Donovan to lean on his physical tone-setters in the middle. Although Erik Murphy can be counted on to stretch the floor, he and Patric Young should look to get shots near the rim. Those two players combine to average 23.4 PPG. Although the Gators have the tendency to launch a high volume of long-range shots, they need to take advantage of their big frames.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Wooden Award finalist, can fill the bucket from virtually anywhere on the court. It is easy to see that the Bluejays count on their frontcourt for most of their scoring punch. Leading scorers, McDermott and Gregory Echenique, both stand at least 6-foot-8. On the season, Creighton shot an impressive 50.8 percent from the field. They did, however, take 708 three-point shots, but only connected on 298 of them. This discrepancy between a clean field-goal percentage versus mediocre three-point shooting indicates that the Bluejays need to continue looking for shots near the rim.