There hasn’t been a lot of movement over the holidays in our champ assessments. Based on conventional champ criteria, 11 teams are in the running to cut down the nets. If you haven’t been following along, here’s a quick explanation. Every champion after 2000 has possessed these characteristics:
- A one, two or three seed
- Member of a Power conference: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC
- Either went to the previous year’s dance or have an All-American
- Led by a coach with more than five tourney trips and at least one Elite Eight run
- Averaging more than 73 points per game
- Allowing fewer than 73 points per game
- An average scoring margin of at least seven points per game
- A schedule among the 75 strongest in the country
Eight teams meet all these credentials. They are Syracuse, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Duke, Villanova, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina. The Blue Devils finally made the grade by reducing their points allowed below 73 per game. Arizona dropped off the list, but only because they’ve feasted on two marshmallows since beating Michigan and their SOS dropped below 75th. Ohio State and Louisville are in the same boat. They meet all the other champion criteria but strength of schedule. Both teams will eventually get there—but by then the Buckeyes might fall below the 73-point-per-game offensive threshold. We’ll see. So far, Big Ten teams have played more offensively than in the past.
Eleven teams passing the basic champ check is a lot, four more than at this time last year. But it’s a different story when you dig into the possession-based numbers. The last ten champions have ranked no worse than 17th and 25th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. By that standard, only five teams make the grade: Louisville (7 OE, 4 DE), Oklahoma State (4 OE, 18 DE), Arizona (13 OE, 6 DE), Kansas (10 OE, 16 DE) and Wisconsin (17 OE, 10 DE). Only the Cowboys weren’t on the basic champ list.
If you go by raw possession-based numbers instead of rankings, the list of potential champs dwindles to just two. The last ten champions have averaged scoring at least 115.1 points and allowing no more than 92.2 points per 100 possessions. Only Louisville (117.8, 91.2) and Arizona (115.5, 91.3) meet those limits. Of course, the Cardinals just dismissed Chane Behanan, so they’ve got some challenges that might jeopardize their standing on all these lists.
That leaves Arizona as the team with the inside track to win the 2014 tourney. Having seen the Wildcats live, I think the numbers—at least at this point—aren’t lying. Time will tell. Arizona has beaten three solid teams so far (San Diego State, Duke and Michigan), but their schedule hasn’t exactly been a meat grinder. And the Pac 12 isn’t the toughest conference in the world. We may not find out if the Wildcats are for real until they go dancing. That would make them the Gonzagas of 2014…but I don’t think they’re as vulnerable as the Zags were last year. For one thing, they aren’t in the bloated Mountain West.