One of these five teams will cut the nets down in New Orleans

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TAMPA, FL – APRIL 07: Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey cuts down the net with her daughter and grandson after winning the NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship Game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on April 07, 2019, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Based on 17 years of data and statistics, one of these five teams (for now) will win the national championship in 2020

We are just under two months into the college basketball season, and as we prepare for conference play, there is really one question we want answered: who is going to win the national championship?

Ok, maybe there are two questions. The other being, “is it March yet?” Or possibly, “how could Will Ferrell say no to $29 million to do Elf 2,” but for now, let’s go with March thoughts. It isn’t March yet, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t think about the madness. With teams playing pinball with the top-5 spots in the AP Poll thus far this season, early-season upsets, mid-major ascensions, and non-conference results that leave you both ecstatic and scratching your head, one might think there’s no way to predict the eventual champion in December. Especially not this year.

Well, that may not actually be the case, I’m going to give you the five teams that will have the chance to win a championship in just a few short months. These are the five teams that, after research into the past 17 national champions, going back to UConn in 2003, rose to the top. These teams may change come March, as it’s based on a set of criteria, but as of today, these are the five.

All data for the 2019-2020 season is based on information through Sunday, December 29, 2019.

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma yells during action against UCF at CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla., on February 7, 2018. On Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, at Temple, UConn prevailed, 88-67. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

I’m using the last 17 years, as this is as far back as I could find a certain set of statistics. I used both ESPN and the NCAA to gather information.

UConn has undoubtedly owned the past 17 years in women’s college basketball, as they have accounted for 8 of the 17 titles (10 of 19 going back to 2000) during that time period. Six other teams have won championships during this time period. Baylor won it three times (’05, ’12, and ’19), Maryland won it once (’06), Tennessee won twice (’07 and ’08), Texas A&M once (’11), South Carolina once (’17), and Notre Dame once (’18).

When thinking about the teams that are most likely to win it in 2020, I looked at four sets of criteria:

  1. Preseason rank (AP Poll): Each of the previous 17 champions were ranked in the preseason top-15 in the AP Poll. The preseason No. 1 team won it seven times, while Maryland was the lowest ranked team to win it in 2006, when they were No. 14 in the preseason rankings. With that, I started with the teams ranked in the top-15 in this year’s preseason poll.
  2. Coach’s final four appearances: Only twice in the previous 17 seasons (11.8% of the time) did the national championship coach win it in their first final four appearance. It happened in back-to-back seasons, as Kim Mulkey won it with the Baylor Bears in 2005 and Brenda Frese with Maryland in 2006.
  3. Scoring offense- I looked at where each of the national championship winning teams were ranked in scoring offense in their championship season.
  4. Scoring defense- I looked at where each of the national championship winning teams were ranked in scoring defense in their championship season.

This criteria got us down to five teams. Let’s take a look at how it all worked out.

Criteria 1: Preseason rank (AP Poll)

To start, I took the 15 teams ranked in this year’s AP preseason poll. Over the course of the last 17 seasons, 100% of the national champions were ranked in the preseason top-15. This year, those teams are as follows:

  1. Oregon
  2. Baylor
  3. Stanford
  4. Maryland
  5. UConn
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Oregon State
  8. South Carolina
  9. Louisville
  10. Mississippi State
  11. UCLA
  12. Florida State
  13. Kentucky
  14. North Carolina State
  15. Texas

PORTLAND, OR – MARCH 31: Oregon Ducks forward Ruthy Hebard (24) reacts with Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) during the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship Elite Eight round basketball game between the Oregon Ducks and Mississippi State Bulldogs on March 31, 2019 at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Criteria 2: Head Coach’s final four appearances

Of those teams, I then looked at whether or not their head coaches have been to a final four. With only 11.8% of the winning teams having done so with coaches making their first final four appearance, and not happening since the 2006 season with Frese at Maryland, I decided that the 88.2% of winning teams having coaches who had previously been to a final four was too big of a factor to discount.

Therefore, I eliminated all of the teams whose head coach has yet to make it to a final four. That eliminated UCLA, Florida State, Kentucky, North Carolina State, and Texas. This brought me to ten teams.

Criteria 3: Scoring offense

The next thing I looked at was where teams were ranked in scoring offense.  The ranking position of each of the past 17 champions was their end-of-season ranking, while for this season, I used current rankings (as of December 29, 2019).

In the past 17 seasons, no national champion has been ranked lower than 18th in scoring offense. In 2003, UConn finished ranked 18th in the country. While that team had the lowest ranking of any of the championship teams, the Huskies also accounted for the best. They finished No. 1 in scoring offense three times, as they did so in ’09, ’14, and ’15. In 2010, they finished 2nd. Tennessee was the next lowest in scoring offense, as they finished 15th in 2007, while the Gamecocks of South Carolina were ranked 14th in their 2016-17 championship season.

TENERIFE, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 30: A’ja Wilson #9 and Head Coach Dawn Staley of the USA National Team look on with the championship trophy after defeating the Australia team during the Gold Medal Game of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup at Pabellon de Deportes de Tenerife Santiago Martin on September 30, 2018 in San Cristobal de La Laguna, Spain. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE. (Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE via Getty Images)

With this in mind, I eliminated any team with a scoring offense ranking lower than 18th. That eliminated Stanford (19th), Oregon State (22nd), Louisville (37th), and Texas A&M (83rd).

For those of you that may be upset about the elimination of Stanford, being just outside of the top-18, if they didn’t get eliminated with criteria three, they would’ve been eliminated with criteria four.

Criteria 4: Scoring defense

With six teams remaining, the final piece of criteria I looked at was scoring defense. This was a bit of an eye-opener, as I didn’t expect to see some of the numbers and rankings that I saw. Also, in looking at both sets of data from ESPN and the NCAA, I was unable to find scoring defense rankings for Baylor in ’05 and Maryland in ’06. NCAA statistics didn’t go back that far, and while ESPN statistics did, they only showed the top-50, therefore, it is safe to say that both Baylor and Maryland were outside of the top-50 in scoring defense in those championship seasons.

The biggest outlier was Notre Dame in 2018. Muffet McGraw’s team finished 239th in scoring defense that year–a year in which Arike Ogunbowale took over the final four, hitting a clutch shot to defeat UConn in the national semifinals, and followed that up with another clutch game-winner to defeat Mississippi State for the title. The performance put on by her and the rest of that Notre Dame team, took the focus right off of their 239th ranked scoring defense.

For the most part, the defensive cream of the crop still rose to the top–or at least into the top-50. UConn finished 1st in scoring defense in their championship seasons of ’10, 14, ’15, and ’16, while finishing 3rd in ’03, and 5th in ’04. Baylor finished 7th in scoring defense in their 2012 championship season and 5th in 2019.  As a whole, only four of the past 17 championship teams finished below 50th in scoring defense, with one of those teams, Texas A&M, finishing 51st in 2011.

With just over 66% of the past 17 championship teams finishing in the top-50 in scoring defense, I eliminated any team currently below that threshold. That eliminated Mississippi State, who is currently ranked 61st.

This brought us down to five teams. Sure, it’s December, but one of these five teams is going to cut the nets down in New Orleans.

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