LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Trying to identify the college basketball national champion in February is like trying to out-cool Tom Brady. Climb a different mountain, pal.

But the ball keeps bouncing, the landscape keeps shifting, players keep getting suspended and the schedule keeps twisting. I won’t tackle Brady, but I’ll try to narrow the field for Phoenix (site of the NCAA Final Four) with a Mid-Week College Hoops Notebook.

Dual Qualifiers

As I’ve mentioned several times, one of the better ways of projecting the NCAA champion is to measure the offensive and defensive efficiency of contending teams. Ken Pomeroy does that at his website.

According to Pomeroy’s numbers, 13 of the last 15 national champions have ranked in the Top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency.

The exceptions?

Connecticut three seasons ago and North Carolina in 2009.

The Huskies were a certified long shot that struggled to score. Although Kevin Ollie’s squad ranked 10th in defensive efficiency they were 39th on offense. Shabazz Napier delivered a March and April to remember.

The Tyler Hansbrough/Ty Lawson North Carolina team had the reverse problem, ranking first on offense but 21st on defense.

Kentucky beat Louisiana State, 92-85, Tuesday at Rupp Arena, but Pomeroy’s formula was as uninspired by that performance as John Calipari. The win knocked the Wildcats out of dual qualifier status. They’re eighth on offense but 22nd on defense.

Five teams that still make the cut – Gonzaga, Virginia, West Virginia, Villanova and Florida State.

Louisville qualifies on defense (second), but not offense (31st).

The 20-Point Loss Red Flag

Before last weekend, Kentucky had lost four games by a combined 16 points. Shift a couple of possessions and the Wildcats beat UCLA and Tennessee. Shift a few more and they handle Louisville and Kansas, too.

But a 22-point stumble at Florida?

That inspired me to make another dive into Pomeroy’s numbers for an answer to this question:

How many of the last 15 NCAA champions lost a regular-season game by more than 20 points?

It has happened. But not often – three times.

Villanova flopped against Oklahoma by 23 in December of last season.

UConn lost to Louisville by 33 in the final regular-season game of the 2014 season.

And in 2002, Maryland survived a 21-point whiff at Duke in mid-January.

Translation: A 20-point regular-season loss is not an eliminator, but it makes you wonder.

Kelan Martin Benched

Rick Pitino is not the only coach who delivered a message about discipline to his players this week. Butler coach Chris Holtmann benched former Ballard star Kelan Martin for the first half of the Bulldogs’ game at Marquette on Tuesday.

David Woods of the Indianapolis Star reported it was not related to Martin’s performance.

It nearly cost the Bulldogs, who labored to a 68-65 victory without Martin, the team’s leading scorer. Typically, Martin gives Butler 16 points. Against the Golden Eagles, Martin scored one point in 10 minutes.

“It was an internal decision that I made,” Holtmann said. “I really don’t want to elaborate a whole lot on that at this time.”

Too bad. I voted for Martin on my list of 20 late-season finalists for the John Wooden Award last week.

Road Ahead for Cards

Louisville faces a tricky Saturday-Monday stretch. On Saturday, the Cards get Miami, which beat U of L last season and lost by a basket in the Hurricanes’ only trip to the KFC Yum! Center two years ago. Miami hosts Virginia Tech Wednesday night. The Hurricanes feature Bruce Brown, a dynamic freshman guard.

On Monday, Louisville gets the hottest team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Not North Carolina. Not Virginia. Not Duke.

It’s Syracuse.

The Orange celebrated a buzzer-beater by Tyus Battle to win at Clemson. Even Jim Boeheim celebrated, hopping around near the scorer’s bench with both arms raised.

Two weeks ago, Boeheim’s team was 11-9 and tumbling out of NCAA Tournament consideration. Now the Orange get Pittsburgh (1-9 in the ACC) Saturday and figure to flash a six-game winning streak when Louisville arrives at the Carrier Dome Monday.

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