This season in college basketball is appearing to be very balanced with little disparity between good teams and very good teams – some of whom we thought would be great. The polls are looking for an alpha team and it just doesn’t exist quite yet. We spent a season ago trying to figure out if anyone could beat Kentucky. Now we can’t imagine a team that could win six in a row away from home.
Billy Donovan's Florida Gators are shooting 39 percent compared to 46 percent a season ago. Many feel they are the best team in college basketball, but they've stubbed their toe on the road at times.
February in particular, is a tough month for the college basketball player. Physically, the toll of the season is bearing down on you. Most players are battling nagging injuries and most definitely fatigue. Mentally, it’s exhausting as the second semester and there are the highs and lows on and off the court. There are personal worries of playing time, of future decisions and coaches on the hot seat. The result is inconsistency.
College basketball is the most difficult sport of any of the major sports to win on the road with the visitors winning only 34 percent of the time. Teams at home look dominant and then when they leave their comfortable confines and they quite frankly aren’t very good. That is why RPI rewards 1.4 points per road win compared to .6 per home win.
The reality is that there is great parity in college basketball today. In a study from top to bottom over the past four years on the individual team ratings as conducted by Basketball State, the numbers clearly show the balance. This season according to those there are 63 teams within a 20 ratings points radius of each other and 109 teams within a 30 ratings points mark. How does that compare?
Last season on this ranking, there were 18 teams within 20 ratings points and 50 teams within 30 ratings points of each other. Previous seasons saw similar numbers. But why is this case and why is there no clear-cut alpha team?
Defense is where teams are evening the playing field. More teams are playing quality defense and giving themselves the best chance to win.
This year, 34 teams have an adjusted defensive efficiency below 90 points per 100 possessions (taking in consideration factors such as quality of opposing offense, site of game and when the game was played); that is compared to just 16 teams last year and 13 teams the year prior. The most amount of teams this decade, combined their winning percentage is 78 percent.
When we expand this out, we also look at the amount of teams whose point per possession defense is at the same level as last year’s national champion Kentucky. That mark is .91 point per possession. Last year, 16 teams held their opponents to that last year, including Kentucky; this year there are 43 teams in that range.
Another good sign of the increased leveling of the playing field is floor percentage and look at the amount of scoring percentages compared to total possessions to see if it explains who’s hot and who’s not. The numbers don’t lie.
Kansas, which had been reeling, had a defensive floor percentage for the season at 41 percent the last three games it has been 46 percent. Wonder why their performances have been down? There you go.
Cincinnati for the season has a defensive floor percentage of 42 percent and the last three games 47 percent . Ohio State for the season was at 41.8 percent until the last three games 49.4 percent. Louisville has seen their defensive floor percentage flounder as well.
Meanwhile, Florida was 45.6 percent a season ago and is now trimmed to 39 percent. Indiana, Pittsburgh and Michigan have all seen similar gains on the defensive end of the floor. The result is more and more upheaval at the top of the polls.
Every night as conference favorites go down, we should not be surprised. With nearly one-third of the teams separated by only a few ratings points, favorites are more vulnerable than ever. This season we must welcome the unexpected and prepare for a new type of Madness this March. At this point of the season, the NCAA Tournament bubble is the biggest it has ever been.
The Madness isn’t just for March anymore.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports.com’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein