It seems that almost every college basketball analyst has dubbed the Big 12 the best conference in America. Well, Jim Larranaga disagrees.
“I think the (ACC) is the best in the country,” the Hurricanes head coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “And the depth in this league is fantastic. We value statistics, analytics. We were trying to get ready for the ACC. We were looking at the numbers (recently). At the time, offensive efficiency – teams that all can score the ball – No. 1 was North Carolina, No. 2 was Notre Dame, No. 4 was Duke, No. 5 was Pittsburgh and No. 8 was Miami. So we had five of the top eight teams in offensive efficiency. So that means the pressure is on your defense to guard those guys because they can flat out score the ball. We’re fortunate. We’ve beaten Duke, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh – and we had to play great defense to do it.”
Larranaga certainly hopes that continues, especially given the number of teams that have a legitimate chance of winning the national championship. Bob Huggins said 10 or 12 teams have that opportunity to do that this season. Brandon Tierney feels it’s more like six or seven.
Larranaga, however, feels the number is upwards of 30.
“Through analytics, there are certain teams that can really advance in the tournament because they’re very good at both ends of the court,” Larranaga explained. “There are certain teams that may not be great in one category – and I’m talking about offensive efficiency or defensive efficiency – but when you get into the tournament, what’s going to happen is how do you match up with your opponent? Can you utilize your strengths and kind of hide your weaknesses? Let’s use West Virginia. They are great at turning people over. So if they run into an opponent that has a high percentage in turnovers, West Virginia is advancing. There ain’t no doubt about it in my mind. You can look at the matchup and say, ‘Uh-oh, this team is going to turn it over 20 or 25 times, West Virginia is going to score off of those turnovers, West Virginia is moving on.’ But if you play a team like Notre Dame, they never turn the ball over. And so, the way West Virginia scores, you’ve just reduced their chance of scoring one point per possession. They get so many points off of their defense, and if they don’t get those, how are they going to manufacture points that night? So match-ups is a huge part of this.”
Larranaga led George Mason to the Final Four 10 years ago in 2006. It was a great Cinderella story, but many people don’t realize that George Mason ranked in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Patriots matched up well with their NCAA Tournament opponents and beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis.
“If we played a team that double-teamed the low post, that pressed, I’m not sure how we would have done,” Larranaga said. “We might have gotten beat in the first round if we had been playing, let’s say, Louisville, who likes to press all the time. We got beat the week before by VCU, who was pressing like crazy. VCU was not supposed to make the tournament and they made it to the Final Four (in 2011) and it was because of their press and turning people over, yet they lost to Butler in the semifinals because Butler just doesn’t turn the ball over. Butler lost to UConn (in the national championship) because of their tremendous guard play. Every team is so different. So I think match-ups and who really has the ability to get to the Final Four and win it all, is 20, 25, 30 teams.”