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  • Historically, the NCAA tournament champion features a balanced mix of offensive and defensive efficiency. But this year, we're seeing more lopsidedness than ever among the country's top teams.
By Dan Greene
February 19, 2018

This past week, I took my first stab at putting together this year’s iteration of SI’s Magic Eight, the tradition wherein we offer a group of eight teams—no more than six from the AP poll’s top eight, and at least one from outside the top 15—from which the national champion will emerge. Compiling the list is a mix of analysis and instinct, but one of the guiding principles tends to be that the national champion will be a team with demonstrable balance: among the 16 title-winners in the Kenpom.com era, the median pre-tourney offensive and defensive efficiency ratings have been four and 12.5, respectively, and ten of them have been in the top 20 on both ends.

In the early years of this decade, that balance was thought to be practically a prerequisite. From 2002 through 2010, only two teams (Carmelo-powered Syracuse in ‘03 and offensively loaded North Carolina in ‘09) did not rank in the top 15 in both offense and defense. Beginning with Kemba Walker’s UConn team in 2011, there have been more national champs who were not top 20 on both ends (four) than were (three), including three of the last four. (Last year’s Tar Heels are something of a borderline case, as they ranked fourth in offense and 25th defensively.)

Is such balance becoming less important? I wondered that while analyzing the field for this year’s list, which offered very few teams who fit that sort of bill, or even came all that close to it. That’s especially true among the cream of the efficiency crop. Out of the current top five teams in efficiency margin on Kenpom.com, only one—one!—is even in the top 40 on both ends:

This seems like a pretty unusual composition for the top teams in the country, so I decided to look back at Kenpom’s pre-tourney data to see how often a season’s elite teams lean so extremely on either their offense or defense. As you might imagine, it’s not very often. Here’s a year-by-year look at how many of a season’s top 10 overall teams ranked 40th or lower on either end:

Year Number of Teams
2002 1
2003 2
2004 0
2005 1
2006 1
2007 1
2008 2
2009 3
2010 0
2011 2
2012 1
2013 1
2014 3
2015 2
2016 2
2017 2
2018 5

There’s an obvious caveat here about arbitrary cutoff points—there were a few teams with ranks in the 30s that missed the cut. But considering there was never a year where even four teams were among the top 10, this year’s crop of four in the top five seems notable.

Only the Shabazz Napier-led 2014 UConn team that made its run as a No. 7 seed and ranked 57th in pre-tourney offense emerged from among those tallies to win it all. But two more might as well have been: that ‘09 North Carolina team and Duke three years ago, both of which ranked 37th on defense.

Is two of those three teams being among the last four champs significant? Perhaps. Is there some underlying cause for this, or is it some kind of statistical blip? My money’s on the latter, but either way, we’re seeing more imbalance among the very best teams in the country than we’ve seen before, giving us good odds that we see another imbalanced champ. And if we do, perhaps this time next year we’ll be rethinking the way we conjure magic.


If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to commiserate about the impending death of perceived reality, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.


ICYMI

The result hardly looks noteworthy, but Michigan State’s 65–60 win over Northwestern made history in the 114-year-old Big Ten: Sparty’s 27-point comeback was the largest in league history.

This resulted in one of the most-discussed win probability graphs of the season:

The 27-point deficit came at the 4:18 mark in the first half, when the Wildcats opened a 43–16 lead on a three-point play by Gavin Skelly. By halftime Northwestern’s lead was 22, and it remained more than 20 points as late as 16:40 in the second half. But that’s when the Wildcats, thanks in no small part to the Spartans’ defense, went cold to the tune of an 11-minute, 31-second scoring drought. By the time they finally scored, they were trailing and would not lead again.

Point guard Cassius Winston was the game’s MVP, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, but the best post-game comment came from his coach, Tom Izzo, who said to reporters: “I told my team, ‘We're setting some new records at Michigan State—best start, best this, best that. And this might be the greatest comeback. The other records, I appreciate. This one, I really don't. ... I hope they don't try to go 28 next game.”

While it may not have come in the most enjoyable fashion (nor against a tournament team), that kind of road comeback has to be a good sign for a title contender trending upward as March approaches. Winston said afterward that the Spartans were ready in the halftime locker room to pull off that kind of comeback. Now, no matter how much they may trail by in the future, they’ll be that much more certain.


High Five

1. Baylor: Has anyone had a more pivotal February than the Bears? After a 2–6 January had just about everyone writing it off, Baylor has now won five straight, winning at Texas last Monday and beating Texas Tech at home on Saturday. Looks like Scott Drew’s squad might go dancing yet.

2. Houston: Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have quietly had a pretty nice season, and on Tuesday they had their most impressive win to date, beating Cincinnati at home. On Sunday they followed it with a throttling of Temple to move to 11–3 in the American.

3. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies gave their resume a huge boost with Friday night’s win over first-place Rhode Island, which The Buffalo News’s Bucky Gleason writes might have been the best victory in the 52-year history of the Reilly Center. They’ve now won eight straight and sit tied with Davidson for second in the A-10.

4. Nevada: The Wolfpack are all alone atop the Mountain West after winning at Boise State on Wednesday, the first of two road wins last week—on Saturday they also won at Utah State. The victory over the Broncos was Nevada’s best since beating Rhode Island at home in November.

5. Georgia: The Bulldogs have become the 11th-place team the top of the SEC fears, reeling off wins against third-place Florida and second-place Tennessee. Junior forward Derek Ogbeide was particularly key with a pair of double-doubles off the bench while making 11 of 14 field goals.


Top of the Classes

Senior: Peyton Aldridge, Davidson forward

Across the Wildcats’ wins over VCU and UMass, Aldridge averaged 30.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while turning the ball over just once. He also blocked three shots against the Minutemen.

Junior: Dylan Windler, Belmont forward

Against Eastern Kentucky, Windler was good: 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, with seven rebounds and four assists. Against Morehead State, Windler was great: 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting with 20 rebounds and three assists.

Sophomore: Ivan Gandia-Rosa, North Florida guard

The juco transfer from Puerto Rico dished out 18 assists against USC Upstate last Wednesday, the most by any player since Trae Young’s 22-assist game in December. He also scored 15 points that game and followed that with 23 points two days later against NJIT.

Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward

In the Wildcats’ lone game last week, Ayton scored 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds (an even eight on each end) while dishing four assists, inspiring Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley to say the freshman “may be the best big I’ve seen in college as a player or coach.”


Loren Orr/Getty Images

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Boise State forward Chandler Hutchison, who is averaging 19.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for the Broncos. So, Chandler, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “I gotta go with In-N-Out. I went from a couple times a week to a couple times a year, so I definitely miss it. I do a double-double with grilled onions and chopped chilis. That’s what I get probably 90%, and then obviously fries and a vanilla shake.”

...thing people don’t know about Boise. “How live the city is. Idaho, you think it’s kind of country. But the city’s actually pretty live. There are friendly people and more things to do than you expect. We have $5 movies on Tuesdays and a downtown that has a bunch of restaurants and live performances. It’s a cool little city.”

...hidden talent you have. “I like to think that I can sing a little bit. That might be a biased opinion. Not many people get to hear it because I don’t do it in public, but I’m gonna go with that. When I was in elementary school I [sang in a choir] but that faded out. I never really sought my full potential.”


Social Media Post of the Week


As the scandal turns...

At least one of the 10 men arrested in September as a result of the FBI’s probe into fraud in college basketball will not be facing charges, and it’s for a reason so perfect it can hardly be believed: According to a report by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, charges against AAU director Brad Augustine were dropped because instead of funneling money to a recruit as planned, Augustine kept the money for himself, thus defrauding the frauders and sparing himself from committing fraud. Of course.

But the biggest news of the week came from Yahoo’s Pete Thamel, who reported that the case’s discovery process has increased the breadth of its impact substantially. One source told Thamel that with the new findings, “Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated.” (Two of those 16 teams, Arizona and Auburn, are already directly tied to the scandal.) Another source suggested to Thamel that the government’s obtaining of bank records of former NBA super agent Andy Miller could have far-ranging effects should findings be made public. Check out the full report here.

Elsewhere, one of the top recruits connected to the probe, five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, announced his commitment to Villanova. Quinerly had initially committed to Arizona but de-committed after it was revealed that Wildcats assistant coach Emmanuel “Pooh” Richardson had received payments from a financial adviser and business manager in order to steer Quinerly to them as a client.


Assigned Viewing: Kansas at Texas Tech, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN2

This game between the two teams tied for first in the Big 12 may finally answer the question of whether this is indeed the first year since 2004 that the Jayhawks finish somewhere other than the top of the league. The Red Raiders’ 12-point win in Lawrence back on Jan. 2 helped announce them as a serious contender and they have yet to lose in Lubbock this season, but a major variable was introduced this weekend when their best player, Keenan Evans, left Saturday’s loss to Baylor with a toe injury. Should he be unavailable or limited, that would be a major blow for Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Kansas is a league-best 5–2 on the road in Big 12 play and will surely have revenge—and the conference crown—on its mind. Expect March-level energy in this one.


Before You’re Dismissed...

• Outside of the Louisville job being held on an interim basis by David Padgett, the first major coaching opening was created on Sunday when Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy stepped down a few weeks shy of completing his 12th season in Oxford. Last Monday Kennedy had announced he would resign following the season, but in a statement released Sunday he explained he moved it up because he realized remaining coach was “proving detrimental to these players." Assistant coach Tony Madlock will serve as acting head coach for the rest of the season for the 11–16 Rebels.

• Chris Johnson and I did our best LeBron and Steph impressions by drafting our own all-star rosters from the college ranks. Who ya got?

• Auburn suffered a major loss this weekend when forward Anfernee McLemore, who was averaging 5.3 rebounds and a team-best 2.7 blocks in 19.4 minutes, broke his ankle in brutal fashion. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in block percentage; McLemore himself ranked third among individuals. That’s a significant downgrade to the strength of their defense.

• Another important injury this weekend: USC’s Bennie Boatwright will miss the remainder of the season due to a left patella injury suffered against Oregon. The Trojans will have to make their at-large push without their second leading scorer and rebounder.

• Bucknell had one of the wildest short-form comebacks you’ll see, beating Colgate in regulation after trailing by 10 with 50 seconds left. Deadspin has the highlights.

• Saint Louis freshman Jordan Goodwin was suspended until May, one of four Billikens players punished following the university’s Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual assault made by three women in September. On Jan. 20, the lawyer representing three of the players said that his clients had been suspended by the school. Goodwin had remained in the team’s starting lineup through its Feb. 10 game against La Salle. The other three players were Jermaine Bishop, Ty Graves and Adonys Henriquez. According to reports, none are currently enrolled at the school.

• Former NCAA tourney hero and current Yale guard Makai Mason returned to action against Harvard this weekend from the stress fracture in his foot that had shelved him all season, scoring eight points in 21 minutes. What makes his return particularly interesting is that Mason has already committed to play at Baylor next season as a graduate transfer, meaning Scott Drew and company have a vested interest in monitoring Mason’s health from afar.

• If you’ve enjoyed watching Adam Rippon at these Olympics, and even if you haven’t, you should read this moving essay on what watching Rippon means.

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