After UConn won the 2011 tourney, I adjusted my champ rules to factor in the trend toward low scoring in college basketball. My scoring threshold for champions used to be 75 points a game. The fact is, 24 of the 28 champs in the modern era had a scoring average better than 75 points.
But offensive output has been going down steadily since its high in 1989, when the average tourney team scored 82.7 points a game. Heck, in 1990, Paul Westhead’s Loyola-Marymount Lions averaged an astounding 124.8 points per game. (That was the team that drew inspiration from the tragic death of its star, Hank Gathers.) For the last two years, the tourney fields have been 10 points less prolific than the 1989 squads. Take a look at the downward trend:
As early as 2006, I had been saying that it was inevitable that we’d have a champion that scored less than 75 points a game. When it finally happened in 2011, I decided it was time to adjust my scoring threshold for champions downward.
But what if the Connecticut win was an outlier? After all, 2011 was the craziest dance of the modern era, registering 19.8% deviation from high-seed dominance on the Madometer. UConn was an unsual champion for more reasons than scoring output. The Huskies were one of only two champs to have a scoring margin of seven points or less (Villanova in ’85 was the other). And they were one of only three teams to cut down the nets after not going to the previous tourney.
So what if we kicked out UConn and readjusted our champ rules? I went back 20 years and discovered that 18 of the champions:
- Were seeded one, two or three
- Came from a Big Six conference
- Had at least seven wins in their last ten pre-tourney games—and no consecutive losses heading into the dance
- If they did have just seven wins, they were on a pre-tourney winning streak of at least three games
- Had a coach with more than two tourney trips who wasn’t snake-bit (more than five appearances without an Elite Eight run)
- Scored more than 76.5 points per game
- Had an average margin better than 10 points a game
- Relied on guards for between 25 and 65 percent of their scoring
- Had a rebounding margin better than 3.0 per game.
Since 1993, 63 teams have met these qualifications, about three per tourney. Overall, their record is 235-45 (.839) and they’ve overachieved at a hefty +.691 PASE rate. More importantly, over half these teams, 32 in fact, have reached the Final Four…and 18 have cut down the nets. That’s a 90 percent success rate.
Using these credentials, only two teams have what it takes to win the 2013 tourney: Indiana and Duke. Gonzaga doesn’t make the grade because they’re Mid-Majors and Mark Few is snake-bit. Michigan falls barely short of the scoring threshold (but tonight’s Penn State loss is a bigger warning sign). And no other team comes close in the scoring.
So either we’ll have a tourney winner that bucks the stats that 18 of the last 20 champions possessed—or Indiana and Duke will confirm the value of these updated champ stats. My guess: if the Hoosiers don’t get it done, we’re looking at another champion outlier.