While basketball is a game won and lost on the proper execution of back-cuts, outlet passes, and technically sound box-outs, the game can also be broken down analytically.
Each of the past five national champions fit into a statistical profile. That statistical profile gives us a head-start at picking the champion to be crowned in Indianapolis in early April.
The profile of a champion was developed using tempo-free statistics provided by Ken Pomeroy.
The statistics that encompass the profile of a champion include: Offensive and defensive efficiency, each of the four factors for offense and defense (effective field goal percentage, rebounding percentage, turnover percentage, and free throw to field goal attempt percentage), and the top five possession users for each team.
The profile was developed using data from the 2005 and 2009 North Carolina team, 2006 and 2007 Florida team, and the 2008 Kansas team.
The 2010 teams that will be included for evaluation are Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke, Ohio State, Kansas State, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Baylor.
Those nine teams represent the projected two seeds minus Purdue (although the Boilermakers will receive a two or three seed, they are not that elite of a team without Robbie Hummel) with New Mexico, the strongest three seed, and Baylor, a sleeper because of its strong offense and tricky defense, instead.
There's an old saying in basketball (well, not really old—it's from the last two or three years): Defense gets a team to the Final Four; the offense wins the championship.
It's a necessity to have a top 25 in defense in terms of defensive efficiency to reach the Final Four, but it is absolutely necessary to be among the nation's elite on the offensive end to actually win the title.
To those unfamiliar with offensive efficiency, it is simply the amount of points a team scores per possession. If a team scores 12 points in its first 10 trips down the floor, that's good for 1.2 points per possession (PPP), which is a strong output.
During the past five years, the five champions have put up these PPP offensive efficiencies: 1.241, 1.253, 1.254, 1.194, and 1.266—which ranked first, second, first, second, and first in the country. Those five teams ranked ahead of the five teams they beat in the national title game despite three of them being worse on the defensive end than their opponent.
So it's clear: offense wins championships.
So which of the nine contenders are in trouble?
Kentucky ranks just 20th in offensive efficiency. In the past five years, only one team (UCLA in 2006) made the title game with a worse offensive efficiency.
New Mexico stands even further behind at 24th and Kansas State is just in front of them at 22nd.
Who's in good shape?
Duke ranks first in offensive efficiency at a stout 1.228 PPP. That number ranks below four of the five champions, but typically these adjusted efficiencies increase during the conference and NCAA tournament due to tougher competition.
Kansas is also in favorable territory because the Jayhawks rank second at 1.215 PPP.
Two of the other favorites, West Virginia and Baylor, are good enough on the offensive end, that they could sneak up into that top two or three range with strong tournament performances. The Bears' offense has only improved as the season wore on, which makes them a clear choice for Final Four sleeper.
The final two squads profiled, Syracuse and Ohio State, both have elite offenses, ranked 10th and 12th, respectively. The Buckeyes would be higher, probably in the WVU/Baylor range, had it not been for the Evan Turner injury that knocked them down a few pegs.
Of the four factors, being strong in the effective field goal percentage category is the most important.
This stat is field goal shooting on steroids. It weights three-pointers in order to make them of equal value in the shooting percentage. Shooting 33 percent from three is equivalent to shooting 50 percent from two in this equation.
The profile of a champion suggests the most efficient offenses were efficient because the teams shot the ball effectively. Other North Carolina ranking 45th in 2009, the four remaining champions all ranked in the top five in effective shooting percentage.
Who's in trouble?
West Virginia, Duke, Kansas State, and New Mexico.
The Mountaineers and Blue Devils are highly efficient offenses not because they get take good shots (if you took a drink every time WVU took a long two, you'd drink yourself under the table by halftime). Those two teams score because they offensively rebound well and protect the rock.
Kansas State gets to line more than enough times to make up for its generally mediocre shot selection (more on K-State's free throws later). New Mexico simply does everything well but is elite in nothing.
Who's in good shape?
Syracuse and Ohio State.
Both of those offenses are very, very good, but not top five good (at least not yet) and both offenses are that good because of their effective field goal percentage. The Orange just slipped into second behind Denver (explaining how that happened is nearly impossible) and the Buckeyes are fourth.
Kansas, Kentucky, and Baylor aren't in the top five, but those three teams are 12th, 33rd, and 18th, respectively. They take good shots, but their offenses aren't elite specifically because of their shot selection.
An individual's offensive rating is very telling.
The offensive rating is calculated using several stats, but generally elite, smart players score above a 130, great players above 120, solid players above 110, mediocre scorers (could also be great scorers, but volume shooters) above 100, and the downright inefficient, hurt-the-offense-significantly types of players rank below 100.
The profile of a champion says a team must have a great offense, and with that great offense comes highly efficient players. Other than UNC in 2005, each champion had at least two players with a rating above 120, and that 2005 UNC team was close, as its second best player was at 119.
The player that rated above 120 wasn't always the star, go-to player, but sometimes, like in 2006 and 2007 Florida's case, that efficient player was the fourth or fifth option on the floor. It's still important to have a player, no matter how many possessions he eats up, score consistently in an efficient manner.
Who's in trouble?
Syracuse and Kansas State.
The Orange don't have one outstanding player or a go-to guy. Instead, the 'Cuse has seven solid producers on the offensive end. Jim Boeheim says he has seven starters and the stats support him.
Not one player in the seven-man rotation is above 115 and not one player is below 108. While that consistency is admirable, it does not fit the profile of a champion.
Kansas State's offense is still fairly efficient despite only have two starters above 110, because the most efficient players on this team generally take the most shots and the bench players that are inefficient play secondary roles in the offense.
Who's in good shape?
Ohio State, Baylor, Duke, Kansas, and West Virginia.
The Buckeyes and Bears are the only two of those five teams that officially meet those requirements, but the other three squads are close with at least one player above 120 and another above 118.
Ohio State's two players don't include Evan Turner, but do include two staples in the offense, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale.
Baylor's top two does include a star and has another star just below the 120 mark. No. 2 option Tweety Carter rates a studly 121 and big man Qunicy Acy is even better at 125. LaceDarius Dunn, one of the most deadly scorers in the Big 12, is a solid 115.5.
It's pretty clear that two of the champion's starters should be highly efficient, but what about the worst starter? Well, none of the five latest champions had a starter that ranked below 105.
That's a sign that the best teams out there may not have five excellent players, but have at least five guys that generally do more good than bad for the offense.
Who's in trouble?
Kentucky and only Kentucky.
Eric Bledsoe is generally lauded for being an outstanding freshman that's capable of playing at the next level next season. But for now, he's a black hole of bad results for the Wildcats.
With an offensive rating of just 94 and user of 20 percent of his team's possessions when he's on the floor (which is 72 percent of the time), Bledsoe is generally a detractor from the offense. Part of Bledsoe's performance can be attributed to his nature of being a turnover machine, but, nevertheless, he's a negative contributor to John Calipari's offense.
Who's in good shape.
Syracuse and Kansas.
Every member of the starting five AND rotation for Kansas and Syracuse rate above 107. That means even the role players are positive contributors to the offense which is a good sign for their title prospects.
Frankly, being a good offensive rebounding team matters, but it doesn't matter that much.
Of the five teams that make up the profile of a champion, the best offensive rebounding team ranked 18th in the nation. That's very good, but not elite like Kentucky, Duke, West Virginia, and Kansas State are this year.
In fact, four of the five latest champions ranked 18th and 42nd with the other at 105th. The four teams this year mentioned above are all in the top seven.
Yes, it's nice that those four teams are that good on the glass, but judging by recent history, being that good might actually be a hindrance because it might mean those teams are lacking somewhere else.
Team in trouble?
While it is not necessary to be an elite offensive rebounding team, a champion should at least be decent. The Buckeyes are far from that. Thad Matta's squad ranks just 274th in offensive rebounding.
Teams in good shape
Kansas, Syracuse, and Baylor.
While the four aforementioned teams are outstanding offensive rebounding teams, Kansas, Syracuse, and Baylor are very good ones that fit the profile of a champion. They rank 28th, 29th, and 20th respectively in offensive rebounding percentage.
The final of the four factors is free throw attempts to field goal attempts.
The recent national champions suggest that to win a title, your team should roughly take two free throws for every five field goals it attempts.
Almost every team generally falls around that range except Kansas State.
The Wildcats go to the charity stripe A LOT. They take more than 13 free throws for every 25 field goals, or basically a 54 percent ratio.
Frank Martin's team doesn't knock the freebies down, either; Kansas State ranks just 253rd in free throwing shooting.
Also, on the other end of the floor, national champions tend to be very good at keeping opponents off the free throw line. Few of the national title contenders this year follow that characteristic, but one practically takes itself out of the running.
It is, of course, Kansas State. Even though the Wildcats draw a lot of fouls, they also commit them at a frightening rate as well. K-State opponents shoot almost a one-to-two ratio of free throws per field goal attempt, which ranks 315th in the country.