The NCAA tournament is a place where the seemingly impossible becomes the norm on a yearly basis. Some events are hard to explain with numbers (Texas A&M’s epic comeback on Northern Iowa comes to mind), but other statistics are valuable in breaking down outcomes.
Here are the most surprising NCAA tournament statistical trends for the remaining Final Four teams.
Syracuse cleaning up the defensive glass
The popular narrative is that it’s easy to shoot 3s against a 2-3 zone, but Syracuse has been outstanding at defending the 3-point line all season. Opponents make just 30.8 percent of their triples against the Orange, which ranks 13th in the country.Where Syracuse struggled most of the season was rebounding those errant shot attempts. Foes collect 34.9 percent of their own misses against the Orange, which is an extremely high mark. Cuse ranks 337th in defensive rebounding percentage.
One explanation for Syracuse’s tournament success is the newfound ability to hold its own on the boards. In fact, the Orange have been downright good on the defensive glass in the tourney. Syracuse has outrebounded three of its four tournament opponents thus far, crushing Dayton and edging out Middle Tennessee and Virginia in that category.
That’s a major accomplishment given Syracuse’s lack of size up front. 6-8 forward Tyler Roberson has been the Orange’s best rebounder all season long, but his activity has reached a new level in the NCAA tournament, as he’s ripping down 11.8 rebounds per contest during this four-game winning streak.
Lydon, who has the body of a wing but plays the bulk of his minutes at center by necessity, has turned heads with his shot-blocking ability. He’s swatted 17 shots in his last three games alone and is holding his own on the glass, too.
Truth be told, it’s been a total team effort, and Syracuse will really need to hunker down on the interior against a North Carolina bunch that is the third-best offensive rebounding team in college hoops.
North Carolina raining triples
The following statement is true for a bevy of teams: If they’re hot from deep, they can beat anyone.
North Carolina is not most teams. If the Tar Heels are hot from deep, they’re virtually unbeatable.
That's why UNC is in the Final Four without much resistance in the NCAA tournament to date.
Marcus Paige’s shooting struggles were well documented this season, but the senior leader has found his stroke in the Big Dance – Paige has connected on 48 percent of his long balls in the last four games. As a team, North Carolina is shooting 38 percent from 3-point range; it shoots 32 percent on the season.
UNC controls its destiny more than any of the four teams left. If the Tar Heels continue to hit shots, it’s hard to envision them leaving Houston empty-handed.
Trevor Cooney attempting three 3-pointers in his past two games
Cooney is one of the hardest-working players in college basketball and does plenty of good things for the Orange. But as a 34 percent shooter from the floor and a sub-35 percent shooter from 3-point range, it’s hard to defend him hoisting the seven 3s per game that he does.
The senior attempted three total 3-pointers in Syracuse’s wins over Gonzaga and Virginia. Cooney averaged 11.5 points on 45 percent shooting in those two games, and with his defensive tenacity and grit, he's been a real asset for Syracuse in the tournament.
Kudos to Cooney for adapting his style to help his team be successful.
Virginia losing a game in which it led by double-digits at halftime
One other extraordinary stat: Tony Bennett coached teams were 68-0 when leading by 10+ at halftime. That streak now broken. #Syracuse— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) March 28, 2016
Two days later, Syracuse’s comeback over Virginia is still hard to fathom.
The above stat makes all the sense in the world when you consider Virginia’s coach, personnel and style of play. The Cavaliers play at the slowest pace in the country, which makes a double-digit lead seem almost insurmountable.
RELATED: Inside Syracuse's wild comeback
Tony Bennett is known as one of the smartest coaches in the game, and Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes have a combined seven years of college basketball experience under their belts.
Amazing things are bound to happen in a single elimination tournament played on neutral floors. This is why we love March Madness.
Kansas being held to zero bench points against Villanova
All season long, Kansas was lauded for its depth. The Jayhawks went 11 or 12 players deep, and if the starters were having an off night, a replacement would be ready to pick up the slack in a pinch.
Clearly, Villanova wasn’t subscribing to that theory. The Wildcats held the Jayhawk bench scoreless, and Villanova super-sub Mikal Bridges wreaked havoc on Kansas’ second unit.
Two key factors are worth nothing here: first, Brannen Greene is Kansas’ best shooter and he was unable to play. Secondly, the Kansas bench only combined to play 18 minutes on Saturday night.
Still, the Jayhawks’ supposed depth was one of the reasons why many had them as a Final Four lock. Jay Wright and his coaching staff took Kansas out of its comfort zone by loading up on Perry Ellis and daring KU’s perimeter players to beat them, and that strategy worked. Kansas looked just a little bit off the entire night, and its lack of bench contribution played a role in that.
When the dust settled, Bridges was the reserve that easily made the biggest impact in the Elite Eight clash. In such a tightly contested game, it made all the difference.