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Mike Lopresti | | March 1, 2021

21 college basketball numbers to ponder before Selection Sunday

What winning March Madness brackets have in common
Hello March. To get acquainted with what’s coming your way this season — besides a bunch of COVID tests — perhaps a few numbers from the last weekend in February can serve as an introduction.

24-0. Yep, Gonzaga’s record is as spotless as a white shirt just out of the washer. You haven’t seen one of those since Kentucky in 2015. How’s Kentucky doing, you ask? Well, in a minute. But here’s another number you should know about the Zags . . .

55.3. Their nation’s-best team shooting percentage. Nobody has finished a season over 55 percent in 32 years. The last team to do it was Michigan in 1989, and you might remember the Wolverines ended up national champions. Not suggesting an omen or anything.

43.2. That was Baylor’s 3-point shooting percentage coming off its three-week layoff. Finest in the land.

27.5. That’s Baylor’s 3-point percentage the two games since returning, when the Bears had to hustle to get past Iowa State and had their unbeaten record muddied by Kansas. So they haven’t exactly found the post-pause range, which explains how they could commit only three turnovers against Kansas and still lose by 13. Scott Drew’s reaction is certainly destined for the pandemic wing of the Quote Hall of Fame: “Even Superman has kryptonite and I guess COVID protocols are ours.” If for some reason they never get back to form, they’ll be the signature coronavirus pause casualty of the season. But for the moment, Baylor still has every right to expect a conference title and talk about a Final Four. Neither has happened in Waco in 71 years.

POWER 36: Oklahoma State, Texas Tech are on the rise in Andy Katz's latest rankings 

38. The Jayhawks never seem to run out of astonishing streaks. This was Kansas’ 38th consecutive Senior Night victory, going back to 1984. They seemed to be staggering a bit toward the finish line a few weeks ago, but not anymore.

5-0. Apparently, Michigan is immune to kryptonite, at least the COVID protocol variety Drew mentioned. That’s the Wolverines’ record since returning from their own 22-day pause, three of the wins against ranked opponents. Nine seniors are on the roster, including six who have been there from the start and just marked up their 100th career victory. That depth of experience is often gold this time of year. They would appear to be ready for you, March.

24.7. Points a game for Oral Roberts sophomore guard Max Abmas, at the moment the highest in the nation. The torrid race for scoring champion will have to be sorted out. Garza led nearly all season, but the Big Ten defenses have dragged him down a bit to 24.3  Coming up quickly has been the truly ablaze Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy. The Titans started 1-7 but have won 11 of their last 13, and Davis led them in scoring all 13 games. He just had 46 points against Robert Morris and is now tied with Garza at 24.3. Abmas' grade point average is even more impressive that his basketball point average.  He’s a biomedical chemistry major, with a 3.69 GPA. Not many of them end up national scoring champions.

2-for-27. Goodness, that was Villanova’s 3-point shooting Saturday at Butler, where the Big East-leading Wildcats were taken down by the ninth place Bulldogs. There was reduced attendance at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but enough Butler fans were in the building to start a chant of Overrated! at No. 8 Villanova. The Wildcats are considered a viable Final Four contender, but they sure can throw in a clunker every so often, and you don’t fool around long with teams like that, do you March? They’re 4-3 in their past seven games, with all three losses by double digits.

74-69. Illinois victory at Wisconsin, which might not seem that startling, except star Ayo Dosunmu and his triple-double ways were on the bench with a broken nose. To win against a good team on the road without him bodes well for the Illini.

19. That’s how many points Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice scored against Illinois in the last 132 seconds. He singled-handedly cut a 13-point Illini lead to one, but couldn’t get the final push. Still, he becomes the favorite for the best performance in a losing cause award. The Badgers, with all their older guys, have become something of an enigma. You have to admire their schedule; they’ve played six ranked opponents in the past seven weeks. Thing is, they lost all six.

MARCH MADNESS: Complete schedule for the 2021 NCAA tournament 

45. That’s how many years it’s been since Alabama won the SEC in both basketball and football. Until Saturday, so move over Nick Saban. The Tide has enough football national championship trophies to fill a warehouse, but know how many Final Fours Alabama has reached? Right. None.

40. Cade Cunningham’s middle name might as well be Probable No. 1 Pick in the NBA draft. But as good as the freshman has been for Oklahoma State, he had never broken 30 points in a game. He has now. Actually, he went for 40 to help beat Oklahoma in overtime over the weekend. The Cowboys are still waiting to hear from the NCAA on their appeal to be eligible for the tournament. If they are, he’s going to be fun to watch.

Cade Cunningham after Oklahoma State stuns No. 7 Oklahoma

3.4. That was the season scoring average for North Carolina 7-1 freshman Walker Kessler going into Saturday. Then he made nine of 10 shots for 20 points to lead the Tar Heels past ACC leader Florida State, giving Roy Williams his 900th victory. Kessler’s slow development might be understandable given the fact he twice had 14-day quarantines in the preseason, even though he never tested positive. He was one of four North Carolina freshmen in double figures Saturday as they supplied 62 of the 78 points. The Tar Heels will go just as far with you, March, as their kids will tote them. Here’s one of those stats that is slightly hard to believe: Until Saturday, North Carolina was 0-10 its last 10 games against ranked opponents.

37.8. USC’s shooting percentage during its lost weekend at Colorado and Utah. The Trojans left Los Angeles for the trip with a 13-3 record in the Pac-12 and on the brink of winning their first outright league title in 60 years. After losing by 18 and 10, they limped home in third place. Still very capable, though.

27-5. Houston’s assist-turnover ratio in a 98-52 rout of South Florida Sunday. If the 20-3 Cougars can match that kind of offensive efficiency with their defensive steel — nobody in the nation shoots worse than Houston’s opponents — they’ll be a team you could really come to want around for a while, March.    

6-0. Arkansas’ record in February, part of a nine-game SEC winning streak. The last bunch of Hogs to do that, in 1994, held up the national championship trophy at the end.

18:52. Keep an eye on  San Diego State, OK? The Aztecs have won 10 in a row and trailed 18:52 of the 405 minutes in those games, never in the second half.

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7. The 16-point victory at Ohio State Sunday was Iowa’s seventh victory of the year over a ranked opponent. Kansas has as many, nobody has more. The Hawkeyes have endured some ragged moments — what are they doing, getting swept by Indiana? — but now is when the veteran nature of the lineup and the Luka Garza effect should click in. 

37. Matthew Hurt’s scoring for Duke against Louisville, which couldn’t save the Blue Devils from an overtime defeat. Louisville joined North Carolina as the only two teams in the past 14 years to sweep Duke in a season series. The 11-9 Blue Devils could have the ACC’s individual scoring champion this season and still miss the NCAA tournament.   

281-8. John Calipari’s record entering 2020-21 in games where Kentucky led by double digits. But the Wildcats have lost four this season, the latest over the weekend at home to Florida. And while we’re on the subject of blueblood issues . . .

84. Season conference titles that Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have combined to win. But they’ve come to you, March, with a combined record of 23-25 in league games. No wonder you look so surprised. Everyone is.

The trials of the rich and famous have been a major theme over the winter. That, and Gonzaga’s firepower, and the virus. Now it’s your turn, March. Can’t wait to see what you do with this plot. 

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