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It is the magic number in college basketball: 68. The march to March. To start the journey, we offer 68 things we couldn't help but notice. Did we cheat here and there, add a percent point or round up? Well, sure. But, like college hoops, like the selection committee, nobody said this was perfect science.
(Note: Special thanks to Blue Ribbon College Yearbook, Ken Pomeroy, Dan Hanner, the ESPN Insider crew, the ESPN Stats & Info and all others referenced within.)
68: Let's start with an easy one: The next four months are, in essence, a countdown to 68 -- then to 16, then eight, then four, then one.
67: Creighton star Doug McDermott's true shooting percentage -- which factors field goal, 3-point, and free throw accuracy -- in 2012-13: 67.2 percent. That's really, really good. And yes, this will be a theme.
66: The national average of possessions per game is 65.9 last season. In 1990-91, it was 75.3. Offenses didn't get worse. They got slower.
65: NC State forward T.J. Warren's effective field goal percentage last season was 65.4, by far the best by any high-major freshman.
64: How many teams the NCAA tournament should have. Never forget.
63: Florida might look like it plays fast. But it plays efficiently. Try just 62.8 possessions per game.
62: The Associated Press issued its first preseason poll in '62, creating an unexpectedly accurate forecasting tool.
61: Virginia is less deceptive in pace: Tony Bennett's team averaged 61.0 possessions per game last season, a consistent trademark of his methodical system.
60: The number of teams that don't participate in the "first round" of the NCAA tournament because the NCAA tournament insists on calling the play-in games the "first round." I have no punch line here. That
59: Marquette's Davante Gardner averages 59.4 percent from inside the arc. He's come a long way from the bit-too-raw, bit-too-much-baby-fat kid who arrived four years ago.
58: On May 14, 1955, Wilt Chamberlain committed to the Kansas Jayhawks. On May 14, 2013 -- 58 years later to the day -- Andrew Wiggins did the same. Trivial? Yes. Eerie? A bit.
57: Cody Zeller's field goal percentage (56.5) as a sophomore at Indiana last season. The task of replacing his super-reliable production -- to say nothing of Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls -- is immense.
56: The ESPN 100 rank of Providence freshman Brandon Austin, yet another totem of Ed Cooley's resurgent recruiting success in Rhode Island.
55: In '55, Colorado made a second consecutive NCAA tournament for the first time. It did it again in 1962, and again, finally, in 2013. The Buffaloes have never pulled a three-peat.
54: Oregon had an overall rebound percentage of 54.1 last season. But its top four rebounders are gone, leaving a lot of work for UNLV transfer Mike Moser.
53: Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono posted an ugly true shooting percentage (53.4) as a freshman. He, and the offense-challenged Wildcats, expect better this year.
52: Where the massively underrated Stony Brook Seawolves -- whose freshman star, Jameel Warney, is due for a breakout this season -- finished 2012-13 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings.
51 (plus 300): There are now 351 Division I men's basketball teams. Let's welcome new members Abilene Christian, Grand Canyon, UMass Lowell and Incarnate Word.
50: Purdue scored 50.2 percent of its points in the paint in 2012-13, which might go even higher if sophomore center A.J. Hammons makes the leap.
49: Doug McDermott's 3-point field goal percentage in 2012-13, third-best in the country.
48: The years that passed between Wichita State's first Final Four appearance (1965) and its last (2013).
47: Speaking of Wichita State, and just a reminder: The Shockers led Louisville 47-35 with 13 minutes left in Atlanta in April. You know what happened next.
46: Harvard received 46 Top 25 vote "points" in the AP preseason poll. Doesn't seem like enough.
45: Oklahoma State won its first national title in '45. Its second came in 1946. It is still looking for No. 3.
44: LaQuinton Ross shot 44.4 percent from 3 in the NCAA tournament. He shot 37.5 percent from 3 in the 33 games that preceded it. Small sample size, or step forward? Ohio State's offense may hinge on the answer.
43: Inches. As in, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon's max vertical jump. Gordon is 6-foot-8. You do the math.
42: After attempting three 3-pointers in his first two seasons at Michigan State, athletic 6-10 forward Adreian Payne shot 42 as a junior and made 16.
41: Freshman wall alert: Baylor forward Isaiah Austin's shooting dropped to 40.5 in last February and March after a 50 percent start in the first three months.
40: And oh?
39: How old Kentucky freshmen Marcus Lee, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison will be in the year 2033.
38: How old Kentucky freshmen James Young, Julius Randle, Derek Willis and Dakari Johnson will be in the year 2033. This is the part where you feel old.
37: The number of wins Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim (920) needs to catch Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (957).
36: Connecticut's defensive rebounding percentage in 2012-13: 36.0 percent, good for 319th in the country.
35: In 2012-13, Creighton's McDermott took 34.8 percent of his team's available shots.
34: The average shooting accuracy of Syracuse opponents in half-court possessions last season.
33: The combined average points per game of the nation's highest-scoring backcourt duo last season: Cal's Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs.
32: New Mexico guard Kendall Williams is a random point explosion waiting to happen, which overshadowed the 32.5 percent assist rate he posted in 2012-13, second-highest in the Mountain West.
31: The ripe old age of newly minted Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who is still 2 years shy of the youngest coach in college basketball, 29-year-old Wagner coach Bashir Mason.
30: The price for one standing-room-only ticket -- excuse me, Party Pass -- for a random Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium, best known as Jerry World, the home of the 2014 Final Four.
29: Shaka Smart's "havoc" system forced opponents to cough the ball up on 28.5 percent of their possessions, the highest mark in the country and the highest of Smart's tenure.
|Shaka Smart has developed a style that suits him and VCU quite nicely. The Rams haven't gone away.|
28: Think you can burn the 2-3 zone with long-range shooting? Against most teams, well, sure -- go for it. Against Syracuse? Don't even try. Orange opponents shot just 28.3 percent from beyond the arc last season, the third-lowest mark in the country.
27: Josh Pastner's average wins per season since taking over for John Calipari. In the C-USA, but still.
26: That's how old Florida State forward Bernard James was when he finished his senior season in Tallahassee in 2012 The Seminoles morphed from one of the nation's routinely dominant defenses to No. 190th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season.
25: Iowa won 25 games last season, the second-highest total in school history, but failed to make the NCAA tournament.
24: P.J. Hairston's minutes per game in 2012-13, when he went ahead and led North Carolina in scoring anyway.
23: The total tally of Big East conference tournament games in Mike Brey's career, only 10 of which were wins. Now it's on to the ACC.
22: The number that uber-star Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins will wear -- the same number his father, Mitchell Wiggins, wore at Florida State from 1981 to 1983.
21: Sum of former UCLA coach Ben Howland and new UCLA coach Steve Alford's combined NCAA tournament wins since 1999-2000 -- when Howland took over at Pitt and Alford was hired at Iowa. The only problem? Alford owns just three.
20: Death, taxes and Bo Ryan: In 2012-13, Wisconsin posted its 10th 20-win season in 12 years under Ryan. In the 103 years of Wisconsin basketball that preceded his arrival, the Badgers won 20 games in a season exactly four times.
19: Roughly the average number of fouls per team per game in every season since 1950, according to Big Ten Final Four research Jim Delany revealed last week.
18: This is Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's 18th season. None of his four-year players have failed to participate in a Final Four in that time; this year's group would be the first.
17: Tennessee's disappointing 2012-13 made it easy to overlook that Jarnell Stokes grabbed 17.3 percent of potential offensive rebounds and will form an imposing frontcourt with returning forward Jeronne Maymon.
16: Ohio State has been to the Sweet 16 in each of the past four seasons, the only team in college basketball to do so.
15: There are 15 "Bulldogs" in Division I basketball, tied with "Eagles" as the sport's most common nickname.
14: The number of consecutive seasons Mark Few has led Gonzaga to the NCAA tournament as head coach. Only Coach K (18), Tom Izzo (16) and Bill Self (15) have more.
13 (plus 100): That's the number of consecutive -- yes, consecutive -- AP top-10 appearances the Duke Blue Devils have made: 113. (It's 114 if you count the latest preseason poll.)
12: Jabari Parker's age when I graduated from college. This is the part where I feel old.
11: The percentage of its total possessions Duke played in transition. Expect a (much?) higher rate this season.
10: The number of seasons Self has coached at Kansas, entering this one.
9: The number of consecutive Big 12 championships Self has won at Kansas.
8: The number of home games Self has lost at Allen Fieldhouse.
7: The number of times I read the previous three items to myself to make sure Jacobim Mugatu hadn't slipped me crazy pills.
6: The final tally of All-Americans Kentucky coach John Calipari signed in 2013-14.
5: College basketball players are allowed five personal fouls per game. With the new contact rules, five fouls may be more precious than ever before.
4: Louisville's Russ Smith can score plenty, but he posted a 4.1 percent steals rate last season. That makes him the best two-way player in the country.
3: McDermott could become the first player to earn three straight first-team All-American honors since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale.
2: Two players all eyes will be on in eight days, when Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker collide at the Champions Classic.
1: 351 to 68 to 16 to 8 to 4 to 1. Let the countdown to AT&T Stadium begin.
|Sunday's trip is the Cardinals' first visit to AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys' home which opened in 2009.|