The college basketball season is beginning conference play, which means that it’s January, and March is only two months away. The NCAA Tournament will be here before you know it, so be prepared to have in place some centralized thoughts on how to pick an NCAA champion.
1. Versatility Matters
The ability to win games in different ways with different styles of play is important. Overreliance on any one aspect of basketball without being strong enough in other areas is precisely what leads to teams losing early in the tournament and going home before they achieved what they intended to achieve.
Villanova shot the ball really well in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but when the shots weren’t falling, the Wildcats could also play great defense and deal with any challenge they faced. Michigan, which faced Villanova in the national championship game, was the other side of the coin. The Wolverines were a great defensive team throughout the NCAA Tournament but had that one really good shooting game against Texas A&M to give their defense a breather. They both had core strengths but showed they could win with other formulas once in a while. These are the teams which go deep into the brackets.
2. Defense Still Wins Championships
The centrality of defense is still undeniable in college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. Michigan shot very poorly from three-point range in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines hit 31 percent of their threes against Montana, 27 percent against Houston, 18 percent against Florida State, and 25 percent against Loyola-Chicago, but won all four of those games to make the national title game. Michigan won those four games
3. Attacking Offenses Work
Teams which attack the basket and can get to the rim succeed. Villanova could fill it up from long distance, but the Wildcats had slashers and scorers who could reliably get to the basket. They had forwards who could finish near the rim. They could get work done in the paint and then create situations in which defenses would have to collapse in the paint, thereby leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Three-point shooting is a product of excellence near the basket. Offenses must attack before they can kick the ball out to the perimeter or threes. Villanova showed that.
4. Avoid High-Turnover Offenses
Committing turnovers is more than just failing to score. Committing turnovers can allow opponents to get easy fast-break baskets off live-ball turnovers, and any kind of turnover prevents teams from launching more shots. When you can’t even shoot a shot on a possession, you can’t grab the offensive rebound. If you are a good rebounding team but commit lots of turnovers, you won’t benefit from your rebounding skills.
5. Respect The Veteran Head Coaches
Rick Pitino lost only one game in the Sweet 16. Roy Williams has still never lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game. Tom Izzo has reached seven Final Fours. John Beilein has made two national title games. Some men simply get the job done in March. Pay attention to them. They are elites in their profession for a reason. They have not backdoored their way into luck. They know how to make the most of their talent. Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Jay Wright – these coaches are respected because they earned their way to such a level of stature.