Control the boards, control the outcome.
It’s not always that simple, but it’s that simple.
Connecticut was barely in the positive in rebounding margin (plus-0.4) for the overall season, but outrebounded both Florida and Kentucky in the Final Four en route to its fourth national championship.
As we look ahead to the 2014-15 season, here are a few potential chairmen of the boards:
Teams to watch
The Longhorns ranked 10th last season in rebounding margin, averaging seven more boards per game than their opponents. Not only do they return their entire roster, including leading rebounders Cameron Ridley (8.2 RPG) and Jonathan Holmes (7.2 RPG), but they add 7-footer Myles Turner to the mix. Turner was ranked No. 2 in the 2014 class by RecruitingNation.
Rebounding should easily be the strength of the team because seemingly everyone in the rotation contributes. Reserve forward Connor Lammert averaged 5.2 rebounds. Even 6-foot-2 guard Demarcus Holland averaged 4.7 boards.
Nearly 45 percent of reserve center Prince Ibeh's rebounds were on the offensive end; he helped Texas rank third nationally in offensive rebounds (15.0 per game).
Rebounding is an unspoken barometer in Chapel Hill. In the four seasons Carolina averaged fewer than 40 rebounds per game under coach Roy Williams, it has been bounced from the NCAA tournament in the first weekend, including last season. Conversely, in six of the seven seasons the Tar Heels averaged more than 40 boards, they advanced at least to the Elite Eight and claimed national titles in 2005 and 2009.
Neither forward Brice Johnson nor center Kennedy Meeks averaged 20 minutes of playing time last season, yet each averaged 6.1 rebounds. Both are likely starters this season and should see their rebound totals expand with their added playing time.
Add the Wildcats to the short list of teams that lost their top rebounder from last season yet should be better at rebounding. Julius Randle's 10.4 rebounds per game accounted for a quarter of the Cats' per-game total. Now that Randle is rebounding for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, two freshmen -- forward Trey Lyles and center Karl Towns Jr. -- should more than account for his absence. Lyles and Towns were both ranked in the top 10 by RecruitingNation.
Coach John Calipari will again have a frontcourt imposing in both its size and depth. UK won’t lose much going from starter to reserve with 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein (the leading returning rebounder at 6.1 boards last season), 6-10 Dakari Johnson, 6-9 Marcus Lee and 6-8 Alex Poythress.
Forward Markus Kennedy is clearly the best rebounder on the team, leading the Mustangs with 7.1 per game last season. Kennedy had 16 games with eight or more boards, and Yanick Moreira was the only other player who registered double-digit rebounds in a game. That, however, doesn’t mean SMU is lacking. Because coach Larry Brown uses up to 11 players in his rotation, only Kennedy stood out. But the Mustangs are good as a team on the boards because they have so many contributors. They enjoyed a plus-4.8 advantage on the boards last season and return 81 percent of their rebounding.
The Wildcats ranked in the top 20 in rebounding margin the past two seasons. They outrebounded opponents by 7.1 per game last season -- the largest margin of Sean Miller’s tenure -- despite using a smaller lineup for virtually the entire second half of the season. Yes, Arizona lost leading rebounder Aaron Gordon (8.1 RPG) and guard Nick Johnson (4.0 RPG). But the Cats will regain forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a foot injury and missed the final 16 games of last season. Sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who averaged 5.7 rebounds last season, appears ready to assume a larger role now that Gordon is gone. And freshman forward Stanley Johnson aims to have an immediate impact.
Teams that might struggle
Expectations have risen for the Cornhuskers, and rightfully so after their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. In order to live up to their potential, though, they have to improve in the rebounding category. The Huskers ranked 256th nationally last season with a minus-1.9 rebounding margin.
Their tendency to go with a three-guard lineup often left them undersized, especially against opponents with girth. The one player bulky enough to throw his weight around, reserve forward Leslee Smith (6-8, 255 pounds), suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last week and is out indefinitely.
The Badgers were an average rebounding team -- just a plus-1.4 rebounding edge overall -- except for the games when their backcourt made it a priority. In their NCAA tournament win against the Baylor Bears, who ranked 12th nationally in rebounding margin, Wisconsin guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser chipped in eight rebounds apiece as Wisconsin won the battle of the boards 39-33. The Badgers will need a more consistent effort next season. Increased playing time for sophomore forward Nigel Hayes should help, as will the ever-expanding game of center Frank Kaminsky, who led the team with an average of 6.3 rebounds last season.