- John Gasaway, ESPN Insider
If history is any indication, there's a good chance the 2013 national champion will come from a group of only seven teams.
How can I be so certain? That's where the Eliminator comes in -- my recurring column where I assess the relative merits of the national title contenders. There are two key pieces of information that I'll be working from here at Eliminator HQ:
1. Over the past seven seasons, the average per-possession scoring margin of a major-conference team that reaches the Final Four has been +0.13 in league play.
2. Someone forgot to share that information with Connecticut in 2010-11, because the Huskies reached the Final Four and won the national championship after outscoring the Big East by just 0.01 points per possession.
You'll see me referring to this second piece of information as the Connecticut Exception. It's my intention to flag teams that fit the profile of a national title contender. UConn that season did not fit the profile, but they won it all anyway.
That's college hoops for you. If that happened every season, you'd hear complaints that the tournament is just one big roulette wheel. If it never happened, you'd hear complaints that the tournament is too boring and predictable. Instead, it happens once in a great while, and I think that's just about perfect.
Setting our threshold at plus-0.13 for major-conference teams (I'll get to mid-majors momentarily) would have correctly endorsed seven of the last nine national champions in advance (the ones that didn't meet the threshold are italicized):
Kentucky 2011-12 (+0.26)
Connecticut 2010-11 (+0.01)
Duke 2009-10 (+0.18)
North Carolina 2008-09 (+0.15)
Kansas 2007-08: (+0.24)
Florida 2006-07: (+0.13)
Florida 2005-06: (+0.10)
North Carolina 2004-05: (+0.23)
Connecticut 2003-04: (+0.14)
In other words, all the No. 1 seeds, plus a token champion from the 2-line (the Huskies in 2004). Big deal, right?
Actually, that national title in 2004 for UConn points to a feature I like about the Eliminator's benchmark. There can be only four No. 1 seeds, of course, but there's no hard limit to the number of teams that can meet our threshold. If you'd been using this screen, you would have been in on the ground floor of non-No. 1 seeds like Kansas and Ohio State last season, both of whom made the Final Four. For that matter, you also would have seen trouble written all over a No. 1 seed like Villanova in 2006 (+0.08), and you may even have taken another look at top-seeded Syracuse in 2010 (+0.12).
Enough history. Let's take a look at the seven teams that are playing at a national championship-caliber level right now, as well as the highly ranked teams that are falling short of our title threshold.
1. Florida Gators (+0.42)
The Gators have been as dominant in conference play as any team in recent years, a fact that has some observers busily trying to explain this rather surprising fact away. So be it. The mere fact that Billy Donovan's team is outscoring an admittedly weak SEC by an admittedly absurd four-tenths of a point per trip is sufficient information for the Eliminator. UF is a legitimate threat to win it all.
John Gasaway tracks this season's top teams against the statistical benchmarks of past Final Four teams in order to separate the contenders from the pretenders. The result: Only seven teams are currently setting a national championship pace.