— Everybody loves Jimmer Fredette.
He leads the nation in scoring, has a commanding lead in the latest AnnArbor.com College Basketball Player of the Year poll, and was the inspiration for one of the more polished sports fan rap songs in recent memory.
But as productive as he may be, can a BYU team so reliant on one prolific shooting guard really be as good, in the long run, as a balanced, interior-minded squad such as San Diego State?
Before trying to answer that question, let’s make sure the assumptions behind it are correct. Is San Diego State really the polar opposite of BYU? We know the Cougars rely heavily on Fredette, but are the Aztecs super balanced, or is their scoring distribution fairly normal and just seems evenly spread in comparison to the Cougars?
To try to quantify balance, I chose what might seem like a weird metric. Taking the top 21 teams in TeamRankings.com's tourney rankings, I subtracted the scoring average of a team’s third-leading scorer from that of the leading scorer, then divided by team points per game. (Actually I let TeamRankings.com do the dividing for me, by using their team contribution pages.) The idea is that having two stars doesn’t make you a balanced team (hello, Purdue?), but once you have a third guy that produces every day, you’re pretty close. So, if there’s not much of a drop off from your No. 1 to your No. 3, I’ll give you credit for being balanced. Dividing by the team scoring average was done to level the playing field for fast and slow teams, and good and bad offenses.
What I found was that, yes, San Diego State is quite balanced, with only North Carolina, Villanova, and Syracuse scoring lower, among a sampling of top teams. And BYU is the closest to a one-man band (see left).
To measure whether the teams were more guard- or forward-oriented, I looked at the percent of a team’s points scored by guards. As expected, San Diego State was again at the low end, along with UNC and Syracuse, meaning they are all interior-oriented. BYU is, of course, perimeter-oriented.
So what does this mean for the teams going forward? Because both Mountain West darlings are in the mix for high seeds in the NCAA tournament, their ultimate goal ought to be winning the title.
With that in mind, I calculated the above two balance metrics for the past 10 NCAA champions. Rather than show you more tables, I made a scatter plot with inside/outside balance on the horizontal axis and scoring balance on the vertical axis. So a team such as BYU, guard-oriented and star-heavy, will be in the upper right. A team such as San Diego State, interior-focused with a spread-the-wealth scoring mindset, will be near the bottom left.
There are two different colored sets of dots below. The orange dots, along with team logos for BYU and San Diego State, represent the 2011 teams from the tables above. The purple dots represent the past 10 champions. None of the champs are anywhere near BYU, but several are in the vicinity of San Diego State.
“But wait,” you might be saying. “What about Carmelo Anthony? Surely 2003 Syracuse ought to be up higher, closer to the Cougars!” Nope. Remember, 'Melo had Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, and “only” averaged 22.2 points per game. Fredette, on the other hand, averages 27.4 points and has less productive teammates.
Does this mean you should jump on the SDSU title bandwagon? (Is there such a thing?) No, of course it doesn’t. For one thing, there are other 2011 teams in the same vicinity (Syracuse and Pittsburgh, for example). And 10 data points doesn’t come close to being a large enough data set to draw any real conclusions from.
Having just said not to draw any conclusions, though, I’m going to pencil one in. BYU will not win the NCAA title. The Jimmer might be great, but he’s on more of an island than I realized, and not even he can carry a team to glory on his own.
Regardless of the title chances of these Mountain West foes, Saturday’s game should be fun to watch not only because of the stakes, but because it pits two teams with such drastically different styles. No matter what you’re a fan of, there should be at least a little bit of it on display in San Diego.