Winning the battle at the rim

Why rim scoring holds key to titles; how this year's contenders stack up

Updated: September 30, 2013, 1:14 PM ET
By Jeff Haley | ESPN Insider

Russ SmithChris Steppig-Pool/Getty ImageSuccess at the rim fueled Russ Smith and Louisville to a national championship.

Louisville's Easter Sunday win over Duke in their 2013 NCAA tournament regional final will likely be remembered by most fans for Cardinals guard Kevin Ware's gruesome leg injury, and for the way Louisville came together as a group and rallied to earn the victory and a trip to the Final Four.

While we don't mean to dismiss those intangible factors as having zero impact on the outcome of the game, the statistical reasons for the win were clear: The Cardinals won the battle at the rim, on both offense and defense.

Louisville took the ball at the Blue Devils repeatedly. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith ruthlessly attacked the basket, and Duke could do nothing to stop them. Nearly half the Cardinals' field goal attempts came as layups or dunks, with 70 percent of these shots going in.

The Cardinals' dominance at the rim extended to the defensive end. Louisville swatted 22 percent of Duke's 2-point attempts, including one out of every four Duke shots at the rim. This difference was enough to allow Rick Pitino's team to cruise easily to a 22-point victory in a game in which the Cardinals managed to hit only 15 percent of their 3-point attempts.

College basketball championships are often settled at the hoop -- and as you're evaluating potential national championship contenders, the most important thing to do may be to project how well each team fares in the region directly in front of the basket at both ends of the floor. Below, we dive into why this is the case and look at this season's title favorites who do or don't appear ready to win the battle at the rim.

Jeff Haley

ESPN Insider
Jeff Haley is a writer for TeamRankings.com, which provides data-driven sports predictions and contest advice.