As you’ve probably noticed, college basketball doesn’t typically play any meaningful games the week before/of Christmas. Most teams try and beat down an inferior opponent and send their players home for an extended break before starting conference play.
Surely you can see how this would make for a really boring column, so I’ve decided to do something different this week and talk about one particular area where a team can improve going forward.
#1 Villanova Wildcats  (LW: 1) – Villanova is suffering from what I call ‘Virginia Disease.” Virginia notoriously plays at the nation’s slowest raw tempo, and that’s holding true this year. Villanova is ranked 317th in raw tempo. The concept is that if you’re better on a per possession basis both offensively and defensively, then you want to maximize possessions so you don’t get outlier performances. For instance, a hot shooting underdog is more likely to regress to the mean if you increase possessions. So if there’s only 55 possessions in a game, a lesser opponent can outshoot their averages for a single game and beat you easier than if there’s 75 possessions. SPEED IT UP ‘NOVA!
#2 UCLA Bruins  (LW: 2) – Can the Bruins play a slow down game? UCLA ranks 64th in adjusted defense, and is ranked 293rd in their ability to get to the line. If they face a grind it out, defensive team that puts points at a premium, can the Bruins succeed? They don’t shut teams down defensively, and if they get in a low possession game, they’re very susceptible to an upset. The Bruins have to play fast with how good they are on offense, but if they get slowed down…watch out.
#3 Kansas Jayhawks (LW: 3) – This will seem nitpicky, but to be honest, the Jayhawks are very good. However, they shoot less than 60% from the charity stripe as a team. As games tighten and we head towards March, the Jayhawks will have to clean that up to make a deep run.
#4 Baylor Bears  (LW: 4) – Speaking of ‘Virginia Disease,’ the Bears have a worse case of it than Villanova does. 332nd in raw tempo. Perhaps that’s how Louisville was able to build a 22-point lead on the Bears in the Championship Game down in Atlantis.
- Average margin of victory >65 possessions = 20.5 points
- Average margin of victory <65 possessions = 12.25 points
#5 Duke Blue Devils (LW: 5) – Duke is shooting less than 36% from long range this season. That’s not dreadful, but certainly not up to Coach K’s standards. As they get healthy, that will need to improve as they navigate an ACC slate full of teams with bulk and length than can pack the lane and force them to shoot over the top.
#6 Louisville Cardinals (LW: 10) – Louisville is definitely going to take some more L’s this season. They shoot less than 34% from deep, less than 48% from inside the arc and less than 70% from the line. They’re great at crashing the offensive glass, but the formula to beat the fighting Pitinos is pretty simple. Keep their possessions to one and done.
#7 Gonzaga Bulldogs (LW: 7) – The Bulldogs are a very solid team all around, and have fewer glaring weaknesses than some other teams. However, for some reason they give up a lot of offensive rebounds. For a team with the length and size that Gonzaga possesses, that’s a bit peculiar. I don’t imagine that issue will continue into WCC play, but we’ll have to see. It could be their downfall in March.
#8 Kentucky Wildcats (LW: 6) – Finally, we get a team other than UCLA that likes to play fast. Turns out, Kentucky really has to. They barely shoot above 33% from long range, and if they can’t get out in transition, their half court sets often stagnate because the Cats can’t knock down open shots. There’s a lot of potential and athleticism on this Kentucky team, and it may be one of the more fun Calipari teams of recent memory, but they have to find some consistent shooting.
#9 North Carolina Tar Heels (LW: 8) – Well this is an interesting problem to have. North Carolina shoots a very solid 38% from deep, but less than 24% of their points are coming from behind the arc. Most of the teams they’ve faced thus far can be overpowered in the post by Carolina’s bigs, but as ACC play approaches, keep an eye on how UNC gets their points. There will inevitably be games where they have to chuck some threes, so the question remains, can they consistently knock them down when their bigs aren’t producing?
#10 Creighton Blue Jays (LW: 9) – Speaking of teams that don’t defend well, the Blue Jays rank 71st in adjusted defense while playing a very mediocre schedule to this point. They’ll face better competition in the Big East and will have to defend teams like Xavier, Villanova and Butler. Can the Blue Jays outscore them all?
#11 West Virginia Mountaineers (LW: 11) – The Mountaineers are playing remarkably fast this year compared to previous Huggins teams. That is likely because they’re turning teams over at a remarkable 35% clip. That seems unsustainable in a league like the Big 12 that features loads of quality guards, so when they can’t turn teams over and get out in transition, where does the offense come from?
#12 Virginia Cavaliers (LW: 12) – Virginia Disease.
#13 Butler Bulldogs (LW: 13) – Consider this one of my sleeper picks. Butler doesn’t have a whole lot of discernible weaknesses. They do suffer from a little bit of ‘Virginia Disease,’ but most of the Big East teams do. They’re not as prolific as Villanova, but can exploit weaknesses of teams like Creighton and Xavier. They’ll have a very interesting resume come March, and I would predict they’ll be one team to outperform their seedline in the Dance.
#14 Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 14) – Virginia Disease.
#15 Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 15) – Purdue just needs to play somebody. The Boilermakers are playing faster this year and they’ve been VERY good on offense, surprisingly. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to the B1G as Purdue is just 2-2 in top-100 games thus far.
#16 Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 16) – Just stop turning it over. It’s not that hard. Turning it over more than 21% of the time is absolutely not the way to go on a deep run.
#17 Xavier Muskateers (LW: 17) – Frankly, Xavier is going to have to shoot better than 33% from deep to maintain their recent success. While a lot of their offense isn’t dictated around the three, they’ll have to be more efficient from long range to improve on the fact that 11% of their shots are getting blocked. Making 3’s will give them space to work on the interior.
#18 Arizona Wildcats (LW: 18) – It’s actually fairly impressive that Arizona has had the season they’ve had given the defections and injuries that they’ve sustained. Sean Miller has had to give his team Virginia Disease to take some pressure off of one of the shortest benches in the nation. I don’t see how they can play much faster, but they will struggle if they can’t slow down teams like UCLA or Oregon. They simply can’t keep up.
#19 St. Mary’s Gaels (LW: 19) – SERIOUS case of Virginia Disease. Why is this a thing? These teams rarely win titles in this day and age, yet so many are implementing this slow play style. There’s a reason these teams don’t get to the Final Four.
#20 Florida State Seminoles (LW: 21) – The Seminoles are young and talented. They’re finally pushing the tempo and it’s paying dividends. However, They’re benefitting from a very weak schedule and will face an absolute gauntlet in the ACC. Let’s reevaluate the ‘Noles after the first week or two of conference play.
#21 Oregon Ducks (LW: 20) – Remarkably, the Ducks are still ranked despite turning it over more than 20% of the time and shooting just 31% from long range. Perhaps that’s why they’ve yet to win a game against teams with a pulse (top-50) and undefeated against all of the lesser competition.
#22 USC Trojans (LW: 23) – The best team the Trojans have played is SMU at 34th, yet they still have six wins by single digits. There’s a reason they’re ranked 44th on Kenpom’s metric rating system. If you can’t blow out the bad teams, good luck as the competition gets stiffer. But hey, great job not losing in your bad non-conference schedule.
#23 Cincinnati Bearcats (LW: 24) – Having Virginia Disease, shooting less than 33% from deep and less than 64% from the line is a recipe for disaster.
#24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (LW: 25) – The Irish just can’t get to the free throw line. Their free throw rate is good for 312th nationally, and that gets exposed against better defensive teams that take you out of what you want to do offensively. When nothing else is working, teams have to get in the paint and get to the line. The Irish couldn’t do that against Purdue or Villanova and subsequently lost.
#25 Florida Gators (LW: UR) – Welcome to the show, Florida. The Gators do many things well, but sharing the ball isn’t one of them. With the edge in talent and athleticism that power conference teams have in the non-conference, the offensive flaws rarely show, but their 308th assist rate caught up to them when they played teams like Gonzaga, Florida State and Duke – teams that can match the talent and athleticism levels. They’re definitely better than last year, but won’t be here come season’s end.