I meant to finish this series of weaknesses of the NCAA Top-25 teams as ranked in Early Feburary. Obviously I never did. In hindsight I'd like to share what I had done so I can look like a complete tool later: In particular, I'm still figuring out this whole "predicting how teams will lose" thing. And I love my Anchorman quote work.
After 21+ games into the basketball season, the metrics for ranking and evaluating teams finally starts making some sense. That gives lazy bloggers -- like moi -- to throw around a lot of numbers and sound like we know what's going on with every NCAA men's basketball team in the nation.
This year's fun revelation: There are no real dominating teams. (I know, I know: Duh.) In these series of articles starting on the 1st of February -- read Part Uno! -- I break down each AP Top-25 teams' weaknesses. This section focuses on the programs in the current top-5, who have looked equal parts incredible and perplexing through the start of conference play.
Note: Most stats taken from StatSheet.com, unless otherwise specified. Stats were current as of the start of January 31st, 2011.
#6 UConn (Overall: 17-3, Conf.: 5-3, RPI: #7, SOS: #13)
Kemba, Kemba, Kemba! Sophomore F/C Alex Oriakhi may be picking up the points (10.7 PPG) and the crucial rebounding (8.7/game) but the Huskies go as far as Junior Guard Kemba Walker. Unless he tries to take them by himself.
UConn is 2-3 in games where Kemba Walker attempted 20 or more field goals. One of those games was a mid-November game versus the Vermont Catamouts. If we take that meaningless game out of the equation, Kemba is 33-100 FG (7-31 3FG) in the win against Texas and losses to Notre Dame, Louisville and Pittsburgh.
It wasn't like UConn was completely struggling in those games: Non-Kemba players were 75-180 (41.7%) field goals. The problem was UConn couldn't stop those teams from scoring. In those 4 games where Kemba attempted more than 20 FGs, opponents scored 78, 73, 81 and 79 points against the Huskies.
As a team, UConn only averages 43.2% on field goals (194th in the nation) and 33.2% on 3-point FGs (217th in the nation). The Huskies also don't take full advantage of the charity stripe, getting to the line just 32.9% of the time (257th nationwide) while allowing opponents to shoot free-throws 35.1% of the time (111th nationwide).
Whatever causes Kemba to go into score-it-all mode might just be the Death Blossom of Connecticut. Which is not necessarily a good thing.
#7 San Diego State (Overall: 21-1, Conf.: 6-1, RPI: #5, SOS: #44)
Ribs. I had ribs for lunch, that's why I'm doing this.
I immediately regret this decision.
We all want to believe in the 1-loss underdog in one of the more difficult mid-major conferences, right? Well I can't buy into an excellent statistical defense that's played only 2 teams from the front-half of the RPI Top 50 -- and lost one of those games, badly. I also can't buy into a team that only gets to the free-throw line in 29.3% of all field-goal attempts and is 244th in the nation at shooting free throws (66.4%).
#8 BYU (Overall: 20-2, Conf.: 6-1, RPI: #1, SOS: #11)
What happens when BYU runs into a Jimmer Hat? That's a real concern when senior guard Jimmer Fredette contributes 32.8% of all of BYU's points and 40.3% of BYU's total three-point field goals. (For comparison's sake: UConn's Kemba Walker contributes 32% of UConn's points and 32.3% of UConn's total three-point FGs.)
In the two Cougars' losses this year, Jimmer was productive: Against UCLA, Jimmer had 7 turnovers and shot only 2-8 behind the arc but still scored 25 points on 53.3% FG. Against New Mexico, Jimmer contributed 32 points (with 6-9 three-point shooting), 7 assists and 3 steals. In the four games where Jimmer shot 40% FG or less, BYU has still won.
But Jimmer has benefited from not playing any of the better defenders in the nation. Who? According to @rushthecourt's Twitter flash poll from early morning February 1st:
(Blatant Plug: Go read RushTheCourt.net if you don't already.)
Most of the players listed on this poll also benefit from having athletic teammates that can put enough pressure on the non-Jimmers: 9 teams listed are also in KenPom's top-100 efficiency-adjusted defenses. BYU has won games against teams in that top-100 defense list (San Diego State, UNLV, Arizona) thanks to Jimmer's ability to not get locked-down.
Normally, BYU does okay playing off-of-Jimmer -- without Jimmer's contributions, the rest of the team shoots 44.8% FG and 34.4% 3FG -- but in the Cougars' two losses, the non-Jimmers just contributed 2 additional three-point FGs in each game. Without Jimmer's ability to generate free-throw attempts and make them, BYU's free-throw percentage drops from 73.7% to 68.3%. BYU depends heavily for Jimmer's control of an offensive possession; if the team is forced to create on their own, they will be in a world of hurt.
#9 Notre Dame (Overall: 17-4, Conf.: 6-3, RPI: #8, SOS: #8)
In their four losses, Notre Dame was held to under 60 points and committed 10 more turnovers than they forced (opponents 48, ND 58). Including the Irish's loss to Syracuse -- who's zone defense also limited Notre Dame's free-throw attempts and post scoring -- the Irish struggled making three-pointers (25.3%, significantly lower than their season-long 37.5%).
The bigger concern is Notre Dame's defense. In conference play, Notre Dame has been getting out-rebounded & has turned the ball over more than their opponents. The Irish have also allowed opponents to shoot a better three-point FG percentage than they have been shooting (ND: 37.4%, Oppo.: 39.3%) and are letting opponents have a significantly-high FG% (44.2%, 183rd in the nation).
Good shooting, shitty shooting: Notre Dame can get pushed around on defense.