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Recent history says offense wins NCAA championships


It's the age-old question: Which is better, a dominant offense or a dominant defense?

If recent history is an indicator, Division-I men's basketball coaches should be looking for the best scorers they can find.*


* — For this blog, I'm going to use adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. Though this sounds complicated, it's actually very simple. Offensive efficiency is the number of points a team scores per 100 offensive possessions. Defensive efficiency, then, is the number of points a team allows per 100 defensive possessions. The adjusted version "adjusts for the quality of opposing defenses, the site of each game and when each game was played (recent games get more weight)." All statistics come from KenPom.com.

I looked back to the last five national champions to examine their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies.

Let's look at defense first. The following shows the adjusted defensive efficiency and national rank of each championship team.

Adjusted defensive efficiency
2008-09 — North Carolina, 89.6 (16th)
2007-08 — Kansas, 82.8 (1st)
2006-07 — Florida, 87.4 (12th)
2005-06 — Florida, 87.2 (5th)
2004-05 — North Carolina, 86.7 (5th)

As you can see, adjusted defensive efficiency seems like a pretty good indicator of a championship team, but it isn't absolute. UNC finished this season ranked 16th in the stat, and just a couple months ago, the Tar Heels weren't even in the top 25.

Now, let's take a look at the adjusted offensive efficiency and national rank of each championship team.


Adjusted offensive efficiency
2008-09 — North Carolina, 124.2 (1st)
2007-08 — Kansas, 125.3 (2nd)
2006-07 — Florida, 125.4 (1st)
2005-06 — Florida, 119.4 (2nd)
2004-05 — North Carolina, 126.6 (1st)

Maybe we should have learned something from history (and maybe I'll adjust my horrific bracket accordingly next year).

As you can see, the last five years, the national champion has been either first or second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Recent history would tell us then that offense — and not defense — is a more likely indicator of a championship-quality team.

In case you were wondering, KU had an adjusted offensive efficiency of 113.8 this season, which ranked 26th nationally. The Jayhawks were better in adjusted defensive efficiency with an 88.0, which was seventh overall.

So what does Kansas need to do to get to that elite level offensively for next year?

A big help would be getting more points from two spots on the floor.

According to KenPom, the Jayhawks received 26.7 percent of their points from the point-guard position (17th nationally) and 23.5 percent of their points from the center spot (46th). KU received acceptable production at the power-forward spot, as it picked up 19.2 percent of the team's points (209th).*

* — In KenPom's analysis, a player's position is determined solely by playing time and height.

The Jayhawks struggled, though, squeezing any points out of the other two positions.

Just 15.2 percent of the team's scoring came from the shooting guards (316th out of 344 Division-I teams). The small forwards, meanwhile, added just 15.4 percent of the scoring (321st).

If history is any indication, KU will need to have a significant improvement in its offense next year if it hopes to have a championship-level team. Having said that, if Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins return, there will be little room for improvement points-wise from the point-guard and center positions.


That means KU either needs to have current players pick up the scoring load from the No. 2 and 3 spots (Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Mario Little, Travis Releford) or bring in other players that will boost the scoring in those areas.

Though Xavier Henry and Lance Stephenson recruiting stories might be getting old, the impact either one could have on KU is significant.

Without one of them, KU is probably a top 10 adjusted offensive efficiency team. With one of them, the Jayhawks might jump to No. 1 or 2.

And, as recent history tells us, there's quite a difference between 10th and second when it comes to adjusted offensive efficiency.


maxcrabb 8 years, 9 months ago

Yet another in-depth, simplistic article from Newell, straight to the point.

I understand this is just a blog, but articles like these would really liven up the print version of the sports page.

formyle 8 years, 9 months ago

I really enjoyed this blog and find the point well taken. My gut reaction (without statistics to back them up) was to disagree--I think great defense can beat great offense in college (while it is just the reverse in the professional ranks, where athleticism rules), but perhaps I was wrong. I always believed defense is effort and hustle, and while there can be off days on offense (sometimes the ball just doesn't go in), defense can be consistent if the players stay healthy.

I would say (without statistics to support me) that KU needs a more athletic outside shooter to get to the next level. Morningstar and Reed seemed outmatched as the level of competition escalated. I think they would both do fine off the bench when they might play more against another team's reserves. A more athletic shooter (like Brandon Rush or, let's say, Carl Henry in the mid 80's...) could get his shot off against better defenders.

I like Tyshawn Taylor at guard. He frustrated me sometimes, but I think he will be really good as a sophomore, as will the Morris twins. I know nothing about the center who transferred from Arizona, but I like having another big guy to help out Aldrich. If we could just get one more set of brothers here and not lose Collins and Cole, well....

Oh, yeah, almost forgot. I like Mario Little, also. I think a player on your roster that creates mismatches (small guy who can post up, for example) is really good for key situations.

Look for KU to shine next year if the right people sign up to be Jayhawks, and if the right people remain Jayhawks.

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