Solving the parity paradox in college basketball is no easy task, and there isn’t one single reason why every week features at least one big upset. But there is one possible cause of all this chaos: There is no dominant, interior, back-to-the-basket big man in the country.

While a bit overdramatic, that statement isn’t inherently wrong, either.

 
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Last year, three of the four teams in the national semifinals featured superstar interior players. Duke had Jahlil Okafor, Wisconsin had Frank Kaminsky and Kentucky had Karl-Anthony Towns. This year? Nobody knows.

The last week alone, the then-No. 1, No. 3, No. 5, No. 8 and No. 9 teams all lost to either lower-ranked or unranked teams. And that isn’t counting the many other Top-25 upsets that occurred over the last 15 weeks.

What do all those teams, and seemingly every other top-10 team in the country, have in common? None of them have a dominant low-post, back-to-the-basket player.

Yes, there are great players who play in the low post -- namely UNC’s Brice Johnson, Kansas’ Perry Ellis and Maryland’s Diamond Stone -- and big men who fit the height and positional requirements like Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. But with the exception of Stone, few of today’s “dominant big men” play exclusively in the paint. That void in the middle has helped fuel the parity that rules college basketball this season. Instead of the relying on a big man down low who gives teams consistent offensive and defensive production, teams rely on the streakiness of jump shots, especially from 3-point range.

*Note: All stats as of March 1, 2016

Take Uthoff as a classic example. The 6-foot-9 stretch forward puts up big man numbers: 18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 2.7 blocks per game. While great stats, Uthoff shoots jumpers and 3-pointers much more frequently than he does at the rim. (via Hoop-Math.com).

Jarrod Uthoff (2015-16)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shots

20.9

44.8 34.3

FG %

72.6

35.6 39.9

Luckily for the Hawkeyes, Uthoff was on fire for the good portion of the season, shooting 47 percent from the field, including 42 percent from 3, for the first 23 games of the season. But that production has dropped off recently, where Iowa has lost four of its last five games, all to unranked opponents. Uthoff’s shooting percentage during losses: .400 (against Indiana), .357 (against Penn State, .250 (against Wisconsin) and .357 (against Ohio State). During that stretch, his 3-point field goal percentage averaged well below his season average at .237.

Uthoff isn’t a bad player, not by a long shot. But with outside shooting comes streakiness, something much harder to rely upon than easy buckets at the rim. With less shots coming in areas where Uthoff has a higher shooting percentage, the less points Iowa scores.

Compare that with arguably the most traditional “big man” this season in UNC’s Brice Johnson, whose shot selection is tailored to a much more consistent shooting percentage.

Brice Johnson (2015-16)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shots

34.9

65.1

0.0

FG %

90.1

46.4

---

Johnson, who averages 16.8 ppg and 10.4 ppg, also shoots 61.6 percent from the field this season. This consistency has been a big reason the Tar Heels have remained in the top 11 in the AP poll. However, even Johnson cannot be considered a true "big man." The Tar Heels rarely call post-up plays for Johnson and 21.6 percent of his shots at the rim are from offensive rebounds, compared with the 9.7 percent of his 2-point jumpers coming off putbacks.

Another "big man" this season is Kansas' Perry Ellis, who just helped his Jayhawks return to No. 1 in the AP poll. He spreads his shots out more evenly than Johnson or Uthoff, but he is still a force in the low post as a traditional forward, averaging 16.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg. And that production has also helped to propel Kansas' interior offense.

Perry Ellis (2015-16)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shot

46.2

38.1

15.6

FG %

60.4

42.5

46.2

But still, Ellis' size and technique aren't comparable to the big men of old. The senior is only 6-foot-8 and is more of a face-up forward than a traditional back-to-the-basket post-up player.

Diamond Stone is a much more traditional big man for Maryland, but he isn't the dominating force that guys like Okafor or Towns were. Though 53.1 percent of his shots come at the rim, the freshman center has struggled recently and averages 13.4 ppg. Maryland's offense runs mainly through guard Melo Trimble, with Stone serving as an auxiliary option in the low post.

Now, let’s take a look at last year’s big men, starting with Okafor, who averaged 17.3 ppg and 8.5 rebounds per game and shot 66.4 percent from the field

Jahlil Okafor (2014-15)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shots

61.9

38.1

0.0

FG %

76.5

50.0

---

The Blue Devils rode Okafor and a great supporting cast of Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones to a national championship last season. Duke also never fell below No. 4 in the polls and only lost to two unranked teams in the 2014-2015 season. When push came to shove, Duke just dumped to Okafor in the low post, and the big man did his job and gave the Blue Devils the production and the points they needed.

Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns had similar results during his lone season with the Wildcats. The 7-footer averaged 10.3 ppg in limited minutes and his presence in the paint helped Kentucky stay undefeated and No. 1 in the AP poll from the preseason all the way to the Final Four.

Karl-Anthony Towns (2014-15)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shots

43.4

53.5

3.1

FG %

75.7

43.1

25.0

Towns' shot selection is actually split more evenly between shots at the rim and two-point jumpers. The difference, however, is shots at the rim are designed plays where he met a defender with his back to the basket.

But what about Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin? Wasn't he a nontraditional big man? Well yes, the 7-foot Badger and 2015 Naismith Award winner did move around the court, shooting jumpers almost as frequently as he attempted lay-ups, with a few 3-pointers thrown in for good measure. But Kaminsky still shot more at the rim more than anywhere else on the court, and at a much more successful clip to help him average 18.8 ppg with a shooting percentage of 54.7 percent.

Frank Kaminsky (2014-15)

at the rim

2pt jumpers

3pt jumpers

% of shots

41.0

38.3

20.7

FG %

70.0

45.5

41.6

So if teams are utilizing big men less in the low-post and more on the perimeter, why are they so inconsistent? With the rise of the 3-pointer in recent years, teams tend to fire off shots from behind the arc at a much higher clip than last season. The 2014-15 Final Four teams attempted an average of 714.5 shots from deep in just about 39 games (with Wisconsin playing 40 games). Duke shot 723 triples, Wisconsin finished with 790 attempts, Michigan State attempted 763 and one-loss Kentucky shot only 582. This season, before the conference tournaments have even started, some of the top teams in the country have already eclipsed those totals or could easily finish with well over 700 3-point attempts this season.

School Games played 3-pointers attempted
Villanova 29 733
Oklahoma 28 691
Michigan State 29 605
Kansas 30 593
Xavier 29 592

The ebb and flow of teams this year is tied almost directly to its 3-point shooting percentage. The term, "live by the 3, die by the 3," comes to mind. While those shots can lead teams to offensive explosions, they can be a team's undoing.

It’s not an exact science, this notion alone doesn’t explain why top-ranked teams are dropping like flies. But it’s a piece of puzzle that may show us the direction of college basketball.