This week, we looked at four statistics to see if there was any connection between excelling at them, and being a Top 25 team in the ESPN/USA Today weekly poll.
Rather than looking at scoring offense or defense specifically, we decided to look at other aspects of the game to see if there was some sort of common thread. Are Top 25 teams all good rebounding teams? Are they good at moving the basketball? How intimidating are they?
The one element of scoring we did look at was free throw shooting, because quality of opponent doesn't come into play as much. Interestingly, that was the one of the four in which not as many Top 25 teams stand out.
One of the more valuable websites utilized by ESPN's college basketball researchers is the NCAA website, which shows updated team rankings. We used that, in conjunction with the latest Top 25 poll, for our mini-study.
The following chart show how many teams in the Top 25 currently rank in the top 25 and top 100 of these statistical categories (through January 17), along with the average Top 25 team rank (out of the 326 schools in the NCAA rankings):
Rocking the Rim
Last Saturday, the Air Force men's basketball team allowed its opponent, New Mexico, to shoot 69 percent from the field, and only grabbed nine rebounds in the entire game.
Yet the Falcons somehow managed to win the game, 64-62, to extend their homecourt win streak to 22.
Homecourt edge had to have something to do with that. We get the feeling that had Air Force posted those stats on the road, it would have lost by 30.
There are four Division-I teams with home win streaks of greater than 20 games -- Wisconsin (38), Western Michigan (25), Oklahoma State (24) and Air Force (22), and each one, in its own way gets certain boosts from playing on the comfort of its own floor.
Some take advantage on offense. Some take advantage on defense. Some use the help of a favorable whistle. This chart shows us how key numbers most differ when a team is out of its comfort spot.
Of this quartet, Western Michigan had the smallest disparity in most statistics (they shoot the ball equally well in both places), something that could bode well for it in big games at the end of the season.
Matchup note of the week
Texas and Oklahoma meet on Saturday, with the Longhorns having claimed the last five meetings from the Sooners. In the history of this rivalry, that is the longest win streak that Texas has posted.
But such wins have not come easily. Four of the five contests have been decided by six points or less.
In the bonus
A couple of Mondays ago, there were three remaining winless Division I men's basketball teams -- Savannah State, Prairie View A&M, and Missouri-Kansas City. The latter won that night -- and hasn't lost a game since.
The Kangaroos enter Thursday night's game with IUPUI the beneficiaries of an amazing reversal of fortune. It took UMKC 15 days to bounce from 0-7 back to .500, and their seven-game win streak is the longest in team history.
Oral Roberts got the early attention in the Mid-Continent Conference by being undefeated through the end of December, but it is UMKC which leads the league with a 5-0 mark (its best league start) that includes four road wins.
"Confidence is fragile, and our guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now," said head coach Rich Zvosec, whose school has never made the NCAA Tournament.
UMKC's roster includes three transfers from bigger Division-I programs, two of whom became eligible after sitting out the first four games of this season. Backcourt mates Quinton Day (four games at USC) and Tim Blackwell (three games at Creighton) have made a significant impact, along with 320-pound senior center Carlton Aaron (four straight double-doubles), in his third season with the Kangaroos after playing seven games at Temple. Their performance, along with that of seniors Mike English (averaging a team-best 17.2 PPG), Brandon Temple (40 3-pointers) give UMKC five legitimate double-figure scoring options.
The 0-7 start can be attributed to a number of things other than a struggle to get familiar with each other after the graduation of 2,400-point scorer Mike Watson. Various schedule strength formulas showed that UMKC played one of the toughest non-league schedules in the nation, with losses to Mississippi State and then-unbeaten Wichita State, among others.
Indicative of the change in how things are going for the Kangaroos was their last conference game, last Saturday against Western Illinois. Earlier in the season, UMKC lost to Central Florida on a tip-in at the buzzer. This time, it looked like there would be a similar result, as Nathan Koster drilled a 3-pointer at the horn after UMKC missed free throw.
Fortunately for Zvosec's team, the game was televised, and replays showed that another senior, Corey Starks, forced Koster to pump fake, causing the ball to still be in his hands when the clock showed 0.0 and the red light went on.
The Kangaroos hopped off the court with their sixth straight victory and everyone can smile now, knowing that things are much better than they once were.
"The way you feel when you haven't won," said Zvosec, "is like you're the only one in the country who hasn't won one. Things just fell into place."
Mark Simon is a researcher for ESPN's college basketball coverage and "Baseball Tonight."