5. Belmont (Ohio Valley)
Surprise! Basically every Belmont team from 2010-11 to now would’ve been, at worst, top ten in these rankings. This one is no different, and it features all the hallmarks of the past Belmont teams you’ve come to know and love: absurdly good 2PT%, strong outside shooting, consistent and exciting ball movement, short possessions, and quality turnover prevention. The only difference is that the head coach is now Casey Alexander, not Rick Byrd.
Just like all of Byrd’s teams, there’s a great post player (Nick Muszynski) that can stretch it out to the three-point line and is exceptional in the paint. There’s an out-of-nowhere lead scorer (Adam Kunkel) that basically requires guarding out to 30 feet. There’s a wide variety of great shooters (Tyler Scanlon, Caleb Hollander), great rim scorers (Grayson Murphy, Seth Adelsperger), and great role players (most everyone else) that lends their hands to an all-around electric offense. On the whole, this offense isn’t quite as perfectly crafted as last year’s offense, but it generally looks the same as any number of mid-2000s Belmont squads. They’re a fun time.
4. BYU (West Coast)
It’s strange that it’s received basically zero national coverage, perhaps because BYU just got a new coach and they’re a clear second-fiddle in their own conference. BUT: BYU is quietly putting out the best offense they’ve had since Jimmer was there every single game. They rank first nationally in 3PT% at 42.3%, make 55.8% of their twos (10th), and rarely turn it over (16th in TO%).
There’s an all-or-nothing factor to their attack that makes it somehow even more exciting. BYU rarely pursues offensive rebounds (349th in OREB%), giving each possession its own unique twist of desperation. If the Cougars can’t hit a certain shot, their possession has about an 80% shot of ending right there. And yet: because they hit so many shots, it doesn’t matter all that much.
Take the Saint Mary’s game for example. The Cougars only tossed up three offensive rebounds, which would be a death knell for most teams. And yet: BYU won because they made 65.7% of their twos and 45.5% of their threes. Add to it that every single member of the rotation has made at least five threes this season, and…you get the point. Jake Toolson (6’5″ guy that plays 1-4, makes 47.2% of his threes) is one of the most exciting players in the sport this year; you hold your breath every time he pulls up for a shot, regardless of who’s in his face.
3. Duke (ACC)
…look, I promise this is defensible.
The average American likely remembers Duke losing to Stephen F. Austin in late November and probably thinks they aren’t all that good in the wake of Zion’s departure. I get it. It’s taken me a while to come around on this, too. But there’s two key things I think we should all know:
- Stephen F. Austin, now ranked 107th in KenPom and 21-3 (12-1) overall, is way better than most expected.
- Duke has gone 15-2 since that game, ranks third in KenPom, and quietly has one of the ten best offenses in college basketball while playing an up-tempo style emphasizing a bouncy, hyper-talented freshman. Sound like anything you’ve heard before?
Last year’s Duke team, when Zion was available, was extremely fun. It was easily the most fun Duke team I can remember since Kyrie was on the roster. Could they hit threes? No, but who cared when Zion was skying over everyone on the court?
This year’s group takes about the same number of threes, but they’re better at hitting them (35.1%, 82nd-best). There were no truly good shooters on last year’s roster, but Matthew Hurt (40.4% on threes) and Joey Baker (41.3%), along with improvements from returners, have helped their overall number. But what we’re really here for is the absolute blast that is Vernon Carey.
Carey, currently a front-runner for KenPom’s Player of the Year, draws 7.8 fouls per 40 minutes and is hellbent on getting to the rim at all costs. Only three players have more attempts at the rim this season than Carey’s 192, and none of them have more dunks than his 36. As a whole, Duke’s 93 dunks (Cassius Stanley, the other freshman, has 27 of his own) ranks eighth-most in America. Hate them if you want, and a lot of people still will, but I promise I’m being serious: Duke basketball, as currently constructed, is the most watchable, enjoyable Big Six product that exists in 2020. If I can hold back puking long enough, I could possibly convince myself to describe it as “pleasing.”
2. Dayton (Atlantic 10)
Obi Toppin, man. When I started this project in earnest, I was convinced Dayton would finish first overall entirely because of Toppin’s dunks. Consider this: Toppin’s 80 dunks are more than double that of the current 12th-place dunker (Osasumwen Osaghae, FIU). It leads third-place nationally by 27 dunks. He averages over 3.3 of these a game. If Dayton had nothing else going for it, not least of which is Toppin’s high-end efficiency and gravity on the rest of the court, they’d still be a very watchable team.
Thankfully for Dayton, it’s not just Toppin. They hit 36.7% of their threes, good enough for 31st-best nationally; all of Jalen Crutcher (41.8%), Ibi Watson (41.4%), and Trey Landers (38.5%) hit 38% or more of their threes. That’s nice, obviously; I like threes a lot. But I like two-point efficiency even more, and Dayton’s is historically good. As of the time of writing, the Flyers are hitting 62.7% of their two-point attempts this year. That’s currently tied for the all-time record (2015-16 Belmont, also 62.7%, of course).
Dayton simply has some massively entertaining ways of being so efficient from two. They’ve dominated opponents on basket cuts this year. They’re one of the most efficient teams in all of college basketball when ball screens are involved. Toppin’s post-up play is among the best in the nation. Only 20.7% of their shots are non-rim twos, but they hit 44% of those, anyway. Only 10 teams in America currently make 68% or more of their attempts at the rim, and other than Dayton (39.3% of all attempts), none of them even get to a third of their shots being there. The closest comparison is either last year’s Gonzaga team or the title winning Duke team in 2014-15; it really is something that’s become must-watch TV.
1. Gonzaga (West Coast)
And yet, I couldn’t quite push Dayton to #1 overall on this list. It’s hard, because the Flyers really do have everything going their way: a high-flying dunker, several great shooters, elite two-point efficiency, ideal shot selection, top-tier ball movement, and the all-important Surprising Season factor. Dayton was expected to be good this year, but in the sense of them getting an 11 seed come March. No one could’ve seen this coming.
But I can’t do it. I can’t ignore these Gonzaga Bulldogs, the most fun college basketball offense for a second straight season. Last year, Gonzaga’s offense was historically great, one that legitimately challenged 2017-18 Villanova for the title of Best Ever (at least in the KenPom era). This one’s slightly less efficient, but in a year where efficiency overall is down, it’s pretty understandable. Also, it doesn’t matter.
When you rank 3rd in eFG%, 9th in TO%, 32nd in OREB%, 6th in 3PT%, 3rd in 2PT%, 7th in non-steal TO% (meaning few unforced errors), you have five regulars with 27+ threes, your best player is a foul-drawing machine and an elite scorer at the rim, your other best player shoots 44% from three, and you’ve finished below 1+ PPP three times all season…you get to be #1 overall. Gonzaga plays fast, they play loose, and considering how often they go to the post, they offer something for fans both old and new. If March or April can manage to give us a Gonzaga/Dayton matchup, whether that’s the Elite Eight, Final Four, or national title game, we’ve all won.
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