NCAA Tournament: Keys to Success: Part Two
..Continued From Part One of Fairway Jay's Tournament Keys to Success
Free Throw Shooting: The ability to make foul shots can not only be the difference in a close contest, but often determines whether you win or lose your wager in the closing minutes. Yet this statistic is probably one of the most misleading stats in college basketball. Here are some of the top team's free throw percentages in conference play this season through mid-February: Connecticut (67%), Pittsburgh (65%), North Carolina (77%), Oklahoma (69%), Michigan State (71%), Memphis (65%), Louisville (64%), Wake Forest (72%), Duke (69%), Clemson (69%), Marquette (69%), Villanova (71%), Kansas (74%), Missouri (67%), UCLA (76%), Washington (75%), Arizona State (72%), Purdue (69%), Illinois (69%), Gonzaga (73%), Xavier (67%),Utah (78%). Shooting under 71% is really sub-par, and yet the two teams that played in last year's NCAA Championship game were both sub-par with Memphis an atrocious 59% and Kansas 70% from the free throw line. Until they come up with a statistic that reflects a team's free throw shooting percentage in the closing minutes of a game, I would say less consideration should be given to this category.
3-Point Shooting: Nothing has changed the face of college basketball more than the ‘three-pointer'. The average number of 3-point shots made is nearly seven (7) per game with approximately 35% efficiency. This season the 3-point arch was moved back an additional foot to 20 feet 9 inches and teams are hitting just under 34% from the ‘arch'. As mentioned, the biggest statistical discrepancy can come in 3-point shooting, yet it is the hardest to predict. Teams can have a significant variance in performance from the arch on any given night. Thus, focusing on the defensive part of the equation and teams that are more active on the defensive end with a priority in defending the perimeter should be your main focus as well.
There you have it: Some of ‘Fairway's Fundamentals' in helping you determine winners in college basketball. For many of you that participate in NCAA Tournament pools and are focused on picking the winner and teams that will go to the Elite Eight and beyond, here are some additional ‘Fairway Facts' and tips to keep in mind. Each of the last 11 NCAA Tournament champions has come from the six ‘major' conferences. Last season, Memphis from Conference USA was NCAA Tournament runner-up after they blew a nine-point lead in the closing minutes and eventually lost to Kansas in overtime. For the most part, mid-major success in the NCAA Tournament is measured in Sweet Sixteen appearances, not Final Four's. Last year I wrote a tournament preview on 10-seed Davidson and noted they were a legitimate Sweet Sixteen team. They made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Kansas by 2 points, but won the money in all four NCAA Tournament games. Three years ago George Mason made a remarkable run to the Final Four, but those two examples are by far the exception and last season all four #1 seeds made it to the Final Four. Remember, television ratings are huge and the NCAA Tournament, like the college bowl season, is about making money for the universities, networks, etc. Just like people tune in to see Tiger Woods golf, the general public wants to see the top teams advance which of course drives TV ratings and produces more money. The NCAA Tournament committee will often ‘screw' the mid-majors by having the quality teams like Davidson and Gonzaga play each other in the opening round. Thus, no chance they can both advance.
To win four, five or six games in the NCAA Tournament essentially requires a top-level point guard, great inside/outside balance with strong perimeter shooters and the ability to pound the ball into the paint. Top contenders must be able to beat teams using their half court offense, and the defensive strength of the opponents becomes stronger as team's advance deeper into the tournament. One-dimensional or run-and-gun teams are not Final Four favorites. And finally as I've mentioned many times, top-level teams and those that reach the Final Four are almost always strong defensive teams and among the best rebounding teams. Add in some quality depth, and the criteria for a Final Four and Championship Game appearance is pretty specific: Dominating defense, rebounding, balance and quickness, high performance at the point and in the paint and the ability to efficiently run half court sets.
Best wishes as you try to make the key ‘shots', ‘score' and ‘shoot' for ‘fairways' and ‘green' in this year's NCAA Tournament and postseason games.