A New Era Part One: Does Height Matter in College Basketball?

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A New Era Part One: Does Height Matter in College Basketball?

When you look back at the old days of college basketball, the dominating teams almost always had a "big guy."

Take Wilt Chamberlain for example. The seven-foot Chamberlain dominated collegiate play for the two years that he played for the Kansas Jayhawks. He averaged 29.9 points per game over his career, and grabbed an average of 18.9 rebounds per game.

Also, look at big men like Bill Walton, Bill Russell, and Lew Alcindor. They all played key parts in bringing national championships to their respected teams. 

It seems that college basketball favored the big men back in the early days, but how about now?

It seems that teams are starting to rely on great guards more so than on a face-the-basket type player these days. Of the 16 teams left this March Madness, only five teams rely on their power forward and center positions for more than 40% of their offense. (Kansas at 47 percent, North Carolina at 45.2 percent, Xavier at 44.4 percent, Louisville at 44.3 percent, and Wisconsin at 43 percent)

The question is: is it necessary to have a big man to have success as a college basketball team?

Coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't think so.

"If you have a good big man, that helps a lot, but I don't think you need to have a great big man to win the whole thing."

Most people will agree with Coach K. The common opinion is that perimeter play is the key in the NCAA, but recent history begs to differ.

Three of the last four NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players have been big men. (Joakim Noah, Sean May, Emeka Okafor) However, this is following an eight year stint in which the MOP has been a guard or a small forward.

When breaking down a game, analysts often immediately look on the team that has the biggest player and gives them the advantage. Butler head coach Brad Stevens doesn't think that this is always the right thing to do:

"Often there's an advantage on one end of the court, but there may be a major disadvantage on the other." 

This year, however, three of the four tallest men's NCAA teams since 1987 have already lost out of the Big Dance. (Georgetown, Connecticut, Gonzaga) Does this mean anything?

The bottom line is that the height of a player has the most effect on the defensive end of the court. When you ask Stanford head coach Trent Johnson about the impact of the Lopez twins on the games they play, he mentions defense first and foremost:

"When Brook and Robin are both on the floor, there's no question it makes it tough for teams to attack the rim and shoot the five- or ten-footer."

Big men are extremely important on the defensive end of the court, but teams can still have success without someone to pull down the boards.

There was a period of time earlier this season when Texas had to play without a big man. Their solution? Just ask head coach Rick Barnes:

"There are different ways to get a post game. Having D.J. (Augustin) drive the ball to the rim and score or get fouled is no different than punching the ball inside to a post guy and having him score or get fouled." 

Now that we know that a big man isn't needed to have success in the NCAA, we can find ways for the smaller teams to exploit the bigger teams in Part Two.

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