The 5 Best Offenses and Defenses in the NCAA Tournament
Defense wins championships, right? Well, what about the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels who didn't even need to play defense because their offense dominated every game so much? When you can hang 90 any night, perhaps the defense doesn't matter.
What's more important?
This is the question that is continuously being debated by sports fans all over the world. It's an interesting one in basketball especially - in the NBA, it's clear that defense reigns king; however, in college hoops, it's much less clear and differs on a year-to-year basis. We're much more likely to see a team dominant enough on either end of the court take over for a six-game winning streak. And in the NCAA tournament - that's all you need.
Last year, Louisville won the title. They were eighth in adjusted ORtg, and first in adjusted DRtg. Two years ago, Kentucky won the National Championship. They were the opposite - second in ORtg and sixth in DRtg. Hmm.
So who has the elite offenses this year? What about the best-of-the-best defenses? Let's break it down, using ORtg and DRtg, which are respectively defined as points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions. We're adjusting them for strength of schedule here too, so you can see which teams are posting stout numbers against the best competition.
The 5 Best Offenses
5. Kansas - ORtg: 121.62
This rating is a bit misguided as it is a year-long statistic and one that wouldn't hold true if Kansas had been missing Joel Embiid all year, like they are now. There hasn't been any word on whether Embiid will be back at all in the tournament, but we do know for sure he'll miss the first two games.
Even though they'll be missing the potential number-one pick in the upcoming NBA draft, the cupboard is by no means bare. Since Embiid has been out, fellow stud freshman Andrew Wiggins (who I would take number one, if you're wondering) has been phenomenal. Not only has he been putting up crazy numbers - 30 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in their overtime win against Oklahoma State last week - but he has been doing it efficiently. In that same game, his 30 points came on only 17 shots, ending with a 52.9 FG% from the field. Wiggins can single-handedly take over this tournament.
4. Wisconsin - ORtg: 121.79
Wisconsin, under head coach Bo Ryan, seems to be in this same place every year. They definitely don't have the raw athletic ability that some of the top offensive teams boast, but Ryan's system breeds offensive efficiency.
As shown, they're fourth in the entire nation in points scored per 100 possessions. That means they score a lot of points, right? Well, they only score on average 73.5 points a game, which is good for 91st in the country. That's why you may be surprised that Wisconsin is on this list - offense isn't about raw points and high-flying dunks. In March, it's all about "Can you get a bucket when you need one?" Wisconsin can.
3. Michigan - ORtg: 123.80
Despite winning the Big Ten regular season and getting a two seed in the tournament, it seems the masses are a bit down on Michigan coming into this weekend due to their lopsided loss against rival Michigan State in the Big Ten conference championship.
Every year this happens. People ride the hot tournament team (MSU) and forget about the consistently good regular season team (Michigan). Every year this destroys people's brackets. Simple advice from yours truly: reevaluate the Wolverines. As shown by being on this list, they can score the basketball as well as any team in the nation. What's also impressive is their balance - even though Nik Stauskas gets a lot of the buzz (and rightfully so), Michigan's strength is in the fact that they also have two other double-digit scorers in Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III. They also do it efficiently, as all three of those guys are over 44% from the field, and Stauskas is a ridiculous 45% from the three-point range.
2. Duke - ORtg: 125.63
First of all, go Mercer!
Ok, now that I've got that out of the way, I'll try to be unbiased for a second and write positively about Duke. It certainly helps your offense when you have probably the best offensive talent in the country in freshman Jabari Parker. He is averaging 19 points on 48% shooting. That can work.
What will be interesting to watch about Parker is how he chooses to attack the defense, and how teams guard him. The one flaw in his young offensive game is his three-point shooting. He's only knocking it down 37% of the time, and takes three of them a game. In the games Duke has lost, he has really struggled from that range, which is really a microcosm of the entire Duke offense. Take the Arizona game back in late November, where Duke lost by six in a close game. Jabari went 0-5 from the three. In the next game against Michigan where they won, he only took two threes and attacked the basket. If he is in that attack mode and doesn't rely solely on his jump shot, Duke will be a tough out.
1. Creighton - ORtg: 126.21
If Jabari is the best offensive talent in the country, Doug McDermott is the best pure scorer in the country. He's been the best player in college basketball this season and his stats reflect that - 26.9 points and 7.0 rebounds a game, while shooting an insane 52.5% from the field and 45.4% from the three-point line. That is about as efficient a season as you'll ever seen in college hoops.
Really, McDermott is the whole offense for Creighton. Only one other player, Ethan Wragge, even averages double-digit points, and he is at 10.5 a game. Creighton opponents will obviously spend their whole time game planning for McDermott, as teams have all season. Sounds like a recipe for disaster for Creighton being so one-dimensional, right? Well, sometimes a guy is just that good. Ask number-two seed Villanova, who got blown out last month by Creighton 101-80. In that game, McDermott went 13-17 from the field (76.5%) for 39 points and 7 rebounds. McDermott isn't a secret to anyone. Even still, no one has been able to stop him.
The 5 Best Defenses
5. Florida - DRtg: 84.26
Florida is the ultimate team this year, as they don't have top NBA-ready talent, yet rolled through the SEC regular season going 18-0, and only have early-season losses to Wisconsin and Connecticut on the year. Defense, in general, is a lot more consistent than offense. You don't have to rely on jumpers going down and perfecting your sets. It's all about energy and hustle.
That's exactly what this Florida team brings to the tournament. All of their main players have an individual DRtg of 94 or lower. That's the key to their defensive identity - balance. There is no weak defender anywhere on the court, and opposing offenses never have any matchups that they can exploit. They are solid at every position, and that's the biggest reason they are a number one seed and many peoples' favorite to win it all.
4. Louisville - DRtg: 84.20
Louisville won the National Championship last year with their aggressive defense and elite rim-protecting ability. Last year they posted an adjusted DRtg of 79.77, which was tops in the country. This year, they aren't quite at the same level, but not far behind.
One reason for the slight drop is the loss of Chane Behanan earlier this year. He was a big part of their defensive identity down low and now the rest of the team will have to adjust for his loss. One of the guys that can do that is Montrezl Harrell, who has an individual DRtg of 86.7 on the year, which is about three points better than his mark last year as a freshman. Despite losing Behanan, Louisville is still strong, fast, and athletic. They can defensively match up against any team in the nation, and in order to make it out of that tough Midwest region they'll have to be excellent defensively again.
3. Ohio State - DRtg: 83.29
While Ohio State has struggled on the offensive end this year, they're one of the best teams in the country defensively. Whether you love or hate Aaron Craft (people can't seem to be in the middle with him), you have to admit that he is a nuisance on the perimeter and can disrupt the flow of any point guard getting into his set.
The Buckeyes are prone to gamble a bit on defense and thrive on opponent's turnovers. They are one of the best teams in terms of stealing the ball from the opposition (Craft leads this obviously), and they're excellent at turning over the other team. In fact, they have turned the ball over 380 times on the season and created 489 turnovers on defense. If you can have a 380-489 (about 1.3 to 1) turnover margin, that's pretty darn good. With all of their offensive issues, they will have to sustain this in the tournament to make a run this year.
2. Virginia - DRtg: 83.18
Like Michigan, it seems that the masses are down on Virginia coming into the tournament despite winning both the regular season and ACC tournament. Perhaps people haven't watched them this year and think they are overrated as a number one seed. Think that at your own risk - this Virginia team is excellent.
They aren't the sexiest team, sure. Unless you love defense, then they're the hottest girl in the bar. How do they do it? They aren't exactly great in steals, blocks, or creating turnovers. They don't play at a frenetic pace and blitz you. Instead, they are solid and long at every position. They only gave up 55.3 points a game this year, which is the best in the nation. They force teams into tough, long jumpers that are very inefficient - Virginia opponents are only shooting 38.5% from the field this year. That's laughably low and should bode well for Virginia's chances in the Big Dance. Oh yeah, and Akil Mitchell can guard anyone in the nation.
1. Arizona - DRtg: 79.88
The Wildcats have consistently been at the top of the defensive rankings all year, and that's pretty much the sole reason why they're a number one seed and one of the prohibitive favorites to win the title. They are 30-4 on the season, and only started losing games when they hit conference play and saw some tough games on the road.
Just how dominant is their defense? Their 79.88 adjusted DRtg is crazy impressive, and is obviously the only sub-80 mark on the year. Louisville did it last year, but before that teams rarely got even close to that number. They are pretty similar to Virginia - they only allow 58.1 points per game (fourth in the nation) and opponents only shoot 38.1% from the field against them (sixth in the nation).
What makes Arizona a little bit better defensively than Virginia (and we're being picky here when you talk about how elite they both are) is the Arizona athletes. They have several future NBA players who can match up defensively against anyone and guard multiple positions. Offensive sets with screens to create mismatches, Arizona can just switch and stay home. There isn't much a weakness with this team defensively, and it could very well lead them to the national title.